Postherpetic neuralgia is a potential complication of shingles. It can cause pain in the area of the shingles rash for months, or even years, after the rash has healed. Research scientists do not know why some people develop this condition and others do not. Once a person develops symptoms, there is no cure. However, antiviral medicines, painkillers, antidepressants, and other medications may be able to reduce the duration and severity of this condition.
About 1 million people develop shingles each year, and a number of them experience a complication called postherpetic neuralgia. This refers to pain that is present in the affected area for months, or even years, after the shingles rash has healed. Although the acute pain of shingles and the chronic pain of postherpetic neuralgia (called neuropathic pain) both originate in the nerve cells, their duration and reaction to treatment is different.
What Causes It?The cause of postherpetic neuralgia is the same as the cause of shingles: a reinfection with the varicella-zoster virus. However, shingles research scientists do not know why some people develop postherpetic neuralgia and others do not. It continues to be an active area of research.
Similar to shingles, postherpetic neuralgia is more common in people over age 50 or in people with weakened immune systems from HIV infection (or AIDS), cancer, or an organ transplant.
Symptoms of Postherpetic Neuralgia
Pain is the most common symptom of postherpetic neuralgia. It is often described as agonizing, excruciating, burning, sharp, electric-like jabs, throbbing, or aching. The pain will, however, vary from person to person.
(Click Postherpetic Neuralgia Symptoms for more information, including severe symptoms.)