Medical Definition of Pain, shingles

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Pain, shingles: Localized pain in the area of involvement of shingles. When such pain persists beyond one month it is referred to as postherpetic neuralgia.

The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia. This occurs when the pain associated with shingles persists beyond one month, even after the rash is gone. The pain can be severe and debilitating and occurs primarily in persons over the age of 50. There is some evidence that treating shingles with steroids and antiviral agents can reduce the duration and occurrence of postherpetic neuralgia. However, the decrease is minimal.

The pain of postherpetic neuralgia can be reduced by a number of medications. Tricyclic antidepressant medications (amitriptyline /Elavil and others), as well as anti-seizure medications (gabapentin /Neurontin, carbamazepine /Tegretol), have been used to relieve the pain associated with herpetic neuralgia. Finally, capsaicin cream, a derivative of hot chili peppers, can be used topically on the area after all the blisters have healed, to reduce the pain. Acupuncture and electric nerve stimulation through the skin can be helpful for some patients. These options are best discussed with your healthcare practitioner.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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