Slideshows Images Quizzes

Copyright © 2018 by RxList Inc. RxList does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.

Definition of Shingles

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Shingles: An acute infection caused by the herpes zoster virus, the same virus as causes chickenpox. Shingles is most common after the age of 50 and the risk rises with advancing age. Shingles occurs because of exposure to chickenpox or reactivation of the herpes zoster virus. The virus remains latent (dormant) in nerve roots for many years following chickenpox.

Shingles is an extraordinarily painful condition that involves inflammation of sensory nerves. It causes numbness, itching or pain followed by the appearance of clusters of little blisters in a strip pattern on one side of the body. The pain can persist for weeks, months or years after the rash heals and is then known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

People with shingles are contagious to persons who have not had chickenpox and can catch chickenpox from close contact with a person who has shingles. The Herpes zoster vaccine is effective in preventing or reducing the symptoms of shingles, and it is recommended for people 60 years and older. Treatment includes antiviral medication and pain medication.

The term shingles has nothing to do with a shingle on a roof or the small signboard outside the office of a doctor but is derived from the Latin cingulum meaning girdle, the idea being that shingles often girdles part of the body.

See also shingles pain and postherpetic neuralgia.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors