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Shingles is a disease caused by the same virus (Varicella zoster) that causes chicken pox. Acute, painful inflamed blisters form on one side of the trunk along a peripheral nerve.
Shingles usually affects the elderly or people with compromised immune function. Nerve pain that persists after other symptoms have cleared is called postherpetic neuralgia.
Symptoms include pain, itching, or a tingling sensation prior to the appearance of a severely painful skin rash of red, fluid-filled blisters that later crust over. The rash is typically located on the trunk or face and only affects one side of the body. Pain may resolve rapidly or persist in the area of the rash for months to years after the rash disappears.
Stress and depression have been linked to outbreaks of shingles in some,1, 2 but not all,3 studies. 4 A small, preliminary study found that four children with shingles outbreaks, but who were otherwise healthy, all reported experiencing severe, chronic child abuse when the shingles first appeared.5 Among adults, how a stressful event is perceived appears to be more important than the event itself. In one study, people with shingles experienced the same kinds of life events in the year preceding the illness as did people without the condition; however, recent events perceived as stressful were significantly more common among people with shingles.
Acupuncture may be helpful in some cases of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. Anecdotal case reports of people treated with electroacupuncture (acupuncture with applied electrical current) described improvement in seven of eight people.6 A controlled trial, however, found no difference in response between acupuncture treatment and placebo.7 The authors of this trial reported some difficulty in evaluating the results due to difficulty in assessing measures of pain in this study group. Large, controlled trials using well-designed pain evaluation methods are still needed to determine the value of acupuncture in the treatment of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.
Hypnosis has improved or cured some cases of postherpetic neuralgia, as well as the acute pain of shingles.8
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.