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Health & Pregnancy

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Shingles During Pregnancy

If you had chickenpox as a child, you will never contract it as an adult. But that doesn't mean you won't have to deal with shingles, which is caused by the highly contagious varicella-zoster virus, the same one responsible for chickenpox. Shingles, which affects an estimated one in five people, is a painful, blistering condition. It can show up at any time, but is especially alarming if it strikes during pregnancy. Fortunately, shingles in pregnancy is rare. And, for most women who develop shingles during pregnancy, the outlook is good.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Shingles

After an outbreak of chickenpox, usually in childhood, the virus that causes it stays in your body, lying dormant in certain nerve cells. Although your immune system usually keeps the virus in check, anything that affects the immune system's ability to hold back the virus -- illnesses, immunosuppressive drugs, severe stress, or aging-related changes, for example -- can allow the virus to return with a vengeance.

Early symptoms of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, generally on one side of the body or face. For some people, the pain is severe. It may be accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, and difficulty urinating. The pain and tingling are followed by a rash, which begins with reddish bumps, most often on the trunk. In a few days the bumps become fluid-filled blisters, which usually crust over and fall off after seven to 10 days.

Even when the rash goes away, the skin color at the rash site may be different. Also, nerve pain may persist at the site of the rash (a condition called postherpetic neuralgia). About one-fifth of people who get shingles develop postherpetic neuralgia. In most people, the pain goes away within four months from the first sign of the rash.

Shingles is typically easy to diagnose. Your health care provider will suspect shingles if you have a rash on one side of the body, along with sharp, burning pain and a history of chickenpox.

Shingles Treatment During Pregnancy

Treatments can lessen the severity of shingles and reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia. These include the antiviral drugs acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex).

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