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Postherpetic neuralgia
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Postherpetic neuralgia

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Postherpetic neuralgia is a painful condition affecting your nerve fibers and skin. It's a complication of shingles, a second outbreak of the varicella-zoster virus, which initially causes chickenpox.

During an initial infection of chickenpox, some of the chickenpox virus can remain in your system, lying dormant inside nerve cells. Years later, factors such as age, illness, stress or medications can reactivate the virus. It can also reactivate for no apparent reason.

Once reactivated, the virus travels along nerve fibers, causing pain. When the virus reaches the skin, it produces a rash and blisters, known as shingles (herpes zoster). A case of shingles usually heals within a month. But some people continue to feel pain long after the rash and blisters heal. This pain is known as postherpetic neuralgia.

When to seek medical advice

See a doctor at the first sign of shingles. Treating shingles early — within three days of developing the rash — and aggressively with oral antiviral drugs may reduce the length and severity of postherpetic neuralgia.

If you do develop postherpetic neuralgia, see your doctor right away. Finding an effective treatment to relieve the pain can sometimes be frustrating. You may have to work with your doctor and sometimes other specialists to try a variety of treatments before you find something that helps.

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:55 AM