Reference Index - Disease & Conditions

Back to Health Library

Postherpetic neuralgia

Definition:

Postherpetic neuralgia is pain in the area where a shingles infection once occurred. The pain may last for months or years.



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Postherpetic neuralgia occurs when the nerves have been damaged after an outbreak of shingles. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Postherpetic neuralgia is more likely to occur in people over age 60.



Symptoms:

The main symptom is pain in the area where shingles once occurred. The pain can range from mild to very severe. It lasts for months, sometimes years, after the original shingles infection.



Treatment:

Anticonvulsant drugs, usually used for seizures, may help with the pain of damaged nerves. Gabapentin and pregabalin are the ones most commonly used to treat postherpetic neuralgia.

Skin patches with lidocaine (a numbing medicine) may also be prescribed to relieve some of the pain for a period of time.

Pain medications are often needed. Sometimes acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are enough. Many patients will need stronger, prescription drugs such as codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone.

Drugs used to treat depression (antidepressants) may also help reduce pain, as well as help with sleep.

Electrical nerve stimulators may be used for severe, long-term cases of postherpetic neuralgia.

Consultation with a pain specialist may be necessary in some cases.



References:

Sampathkumar P, Drage LA, Martin DP. Herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia. Mayo Clin Proc. 2009 Mar;84(3):274-80. Review.




Review Date: 6/10/2009
Reviewed By: Reviewed by Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com


Greater Baltimore Medical Center | 6701 North Charles Street | Baltimore, MD 21204 | (443) 849-2000 | TTY (800) 735-2258
© 2014  GBMC. This website is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with a professional healthcare provider.