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Understanding Postherpetic Neuralgia -- the Basics

What Is Postherpetic Neuralgia?

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 zoster rash has cleared is considered postherpetic neuralgia.

Understanding Postherapetic Neuralgia Basics

What Are the Causes of 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:

  • Older age
  • 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.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on February 28, 2015

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