Your healthcare provider will take many factors into account when diagnosing shingles. For example, your doctor will ask you several questions about your symptoms and will also perform a physical exam to look for a rash or other signs of shingles. Making a diagnosis can be difficult when a rash is not present. However, there are other ways of diagnosing the condition, such as with a blood test.
Diagnosing Shingles: An Overview
Before making a shingles diagnosis, your healthcare provider will ask you a number of questions (this is known as taking a medical history). Your healthcare provider will also perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of shingles.
A typical case of shingles is easy to diagnose. The doctor might suspect shingles if:
The rash is on only one side of the body
The rash erupts along one of the many nerve paths, called dermatomes, that stem from the spine.
The doctor usually confirms a diagnosis of shingles if a person also:
- Reports a sharp, burning pain
- Has had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine
- Has blisters that look like chickenpox
- Is elderly.
Shingles Diagnosis Without a Rash
Some people have burning, painful, itchy sensations on one area of skin, but they don't get a rash (or the shingles rash has yet to appear). If there is no rash, the symptoms can be difficult to diagnose because they can be mistaken for several other diseases.
In cases where there is no rash, or the diagnosis is questionable, doctors can do a blood test. If there is a rash, but it does not resemble a typical shingles outbreak, skin scrapings from the sores can also be used.