Neuralgia is nerve pain that occurs when a nerve is damaged, irritated or inflamed. The pain spreads along neural pathways, may be brief or chronic, and can range from mild to outright unbearable.
A relatively common type of neuralgia is postherpetic neuralgia, which strikes after the infection known as shingles (herpes zoster). Typically, people with this form of neuralgia experience a continuous burning sensation. Pain may be very severe and long lasting. Any pain that persists for more than a month after the herpes zosterrash has cleared is considered postherpetic neuralgia.
Not everyone who has shingles will develop postherpetic neuralgia. But, as many as 20% to 30% of people with shingles will go on to develop persistent pain.
Doctors have identified a number of factors that can increase the chances of developing postherpetic neuralgia once you have shingles. They include:
Being a woman
Presence of symptoms before the rash appeared, such as numbness, tingling, itching, or pain
Severity of pain during initial stages of the illness
Severity of rash
Psychological stress may also play a role. One study found that people who developed postherpetic neuralgia were more likely to have had symptoms of personality disorders, anxiety, and other bodily symptoms.
SOURCES: American Academy of Family Physicians: “Shingles.” Center for Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia: "Surgical options for treating postherpetic neuralgia" Center for Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia: "Treating shingles with tricyclic antidepressants to lessen the risk of PHN." Johnson R., BMJ, April 5, 2003. Jung, B., Neurology, May 2004 Lyrica: "PNH: How Lyrica Works." Mounsey A., American Family Physician, Sept. 15, 2005. NINDS: “Shingles: Hope through Research.” Oxman, M. New England Journal of Medicine, June 2, 2005. Douglas M., Drug Safety, 2004. WebMD Health News: “Shingles Vaccine to Be Routine at 60.” Food and Drug Administration: “FDA Licenses New Vaccine to Reduce Older Americans’ Risk of Shingles.”
Richard Senelick, MD on February 28, 2015