Shingles (herpes zoster) is a nasty virus. Not only does it cause a lot of skin and joint pain, from recent Korean scientific research now shows that you have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke after shingles. An important new insight. Our expert and dermatologist Dr. Francis Wu tells more about the viral infection below.
Anyone who has chickenpox can get shingles
Shingles is a viral infection and anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles later on. Both are caused by the same virus, the varicella-zoster virus.
The virus remains
This virus persists after chickenpox and retreats into sensory nerve cells in the body. Particularly in the trunk, neck, shoulder and arm, but also of cranial nerves: in trigeminal nerve (the fifth facial nerve that can cause facial pain) and facial nerve(controls facial expressions).
Anyone can get shingles, even if you’re vaccinated, but the chances are slim.
2 in 10 who had chickenpox get shingles
More than 2 in 10 people who have had chickenpox will experience shingles at some point. In principle, shingles can occur several times in a person, but this is rare.
Usually older than 50
Most people who get shingles are over 50 years old. The risk of shingles grows with age due to the weakening of our immune system. Extreme stress and certain drugs that weaken the immune system can also activate and multiply the virus.
Torso, arms and face
The virus reaches the skin via nerve pathways and is then located on one side of the body, the so-called dermatome. With a serious immune disorder (such as leukemia, AIDS), a shingles infection is not limited to one area, but spreads to several parts of the body. The trunk is particularly often affected, followed by the arms. In 15% of people with shingles it is in the face.
Highly contagious as long as there are blisters
Shingles is very bothersome and contagious as long as open wounds and blisters are present. Newborn babies, people who have never had chickenpox and patients with severely impaired immune systems are particularly susceptible to infection.
When the infection announces itself: tired, feverish and skin tingling
Just before a shingles infection, you may have a tired and feverish feeling, as well as tingling in the skin.
Then stabbing, burning pain and red blisters
Two to three days later there is severe, stabbing or burning pain and grouped red blisters also appear on the affected part of the body. This phase lasts up to 5 days and then the blisters dry out over a period of two to 10 days.
Most annoying: post-pain. Sometimes for a year.
The most annoying after-effect of a shingles infection is pain. The nerves that register pain, pressure and sensation are damaged by the virus. In 49 studies showed a variation of 5 to more than 30% post-pain. In people over the age of 70, 28% develop chronic pain after an acute shingles phase. In 30-50% the after-pain lasts a year or more.
Another thing to consider: 35%-59% increased risk of heart attack or stroke
A recent Korean study showed an increased risk of heart attack or stroke after a herpes zoster infection. Patients with a herpes zoster infection have a 35% increased risk of stroke and a 59% increased risk of heart attack. The risk of stroke was highest in patients younger than 40 years. An explanation for these findings is unclear. According to a systemic reviewthe greatest risk of cardiac and cerebral infarction, 10-30% and 20-40% increased after 3 to 12 months, respectively. If you fall under the risk groups: diabetes, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoker, then it makes sense to do a general body check at the doctor’s office. And of course also in case of complaints.
What can you do about it?
In healthy people, shingles will clear up on its own and go away without medication in about 1 month.
Antiseptic or anti-itch lotions, gels, and powders are often used to relieve the itch and dry out the blisters. Most contain zinc, tanins, menthol or polidocanol. If blisters have already formed, wrapping with cooled bandages is sometimes advised. But there is no good scientific research on how well these treatments work.
More on puritus
In case of serious complaints: anti-viral drugs
Pain and fever can be resolved with medications such as acetaminophen (acetaminophen) or aspirin. Antiviral drugs such as aciclovir, valaciclovir or famciclovir are useful in severe shingles, especially in the face near the eye, and severe immune disorders.
Only the antiviral drugs must be started within a week after the onset of the first symptoms. After that it makes little sense. In case of pain complaints, it is advisable to consult a general practitioner, anesthesiologist or neurologist.
This article was also published on Beautyjournaal.