One in 5 people will get shingles, and the chance increases with age, particularly after age 50. With odds like that, knowing the symptoms of shingles is useful information to have. Shingles represents a reactivation of a virus called varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox, that virus is still in your nervous system. The shingles vaccine can reduce the risk of getting shingles by at least 50 percent and reduces the pain in people who do get shingles even after receiving the vaccine.
Symptoms of shingles are similar in men and women. The first and most common symptom of shingles is usually pain. This pain typically occurs before any rash is present and is sometimes called the warning stage of shingles. Women often describe a tingling, burning pain or an area of intense sensitivity on their skin. This often happens in a small area that is on one side of the body only. The pain may be mild or intense enough to require treatment with painkillers. The pain may last for a few days, may come and go or may be constant. It may continue once the rash and blisters form and usually lessens when the rash disappears.
Rash and Blisters
Another symptom of shingles is a rash that turns into fluid-filled blisters. This usually appears a few days or a week after skin pain starts. The blisters form a crusty scab in about 7 to 10 days and typically clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. The difference between the rash of chickenpox and that of shingles is that shingles usually appears on one side of the body only. Shingles commonly appears in a belt-like band around the midsection, corresponding to skin along the path of one nerve. Sometimes the rash appears on one side of the face and follows the major facial nerve, or it can involve more than just a single area of skin. Some cases of shingles have only a few or even no blisters. A shingle diagnosis can be missed in this case. Shingles without any rash or blisters is called zoster sine herpete.
Once the rash appears, women sometimes report flu-like symptoms, such as headache, upset stomach, fever and chills. About half of the people who have rash along the facial nerve experience eye complications. These complications are generally seen as inflammation of different parts of the eye and may involve a mucus or pus-like discharge and sensitivity to light. Eye problems from shingles are very serious and should be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Some women experience a condition called postherpetic neuralgia. This condition is pain that continues even after the shingles rash is gone. The pain has been described as a constant burning that hurts to the touch or pressure from clothing. It usually resolves on its own, but resolution can take 6 months to a year or even longer.
Shingles in Pregnancy
Pregnant women can get shingles, but it is rare. While chickenpox can pose a very serious risk to a fetus, there is almost no risk to the fetus if the mother gets shingles. The symptoms of shingles are the same in pregnant and non-pregnant women. Any area of skin that has pain, tingling, itching or burning -- even without a rash or blister -- should be brought to the attention of a doctor, as this could be the early stages of shingles.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Shingles -- Hope Through Research
- American Academy of Dermatology: Shingles -- Signs and Symptoms
- American Family Physician: Management of Herpes Zoster (Shingles) and Postherpetic Neuralgia
- Centers for Disease Control: Shingles Signs and Symptoms
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Shingles and Chickenpox