Shingles

Herpes zoster

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, blistering skin rash. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the virus that also causes chickenpox.

Herpes zoster (shingles) on the back

A classical pattern for shingles. The infection follows a nerve root from the spine, along a rib, to the front of the chest. The area innervated by the nerve is called a "dermatome".

Adult dermatome

Understanding the nerve distribution along the dermatomes is helpful in determining how certain diseases, such as shingles and some other neurological conditions, target one area of the body. The letter-number combinations show the relationship between each area and its corresponding sensory nerve. The vertebrae are classified as C for cervical, T for thoracic, L for lumbar, and S for sacral. The trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve, represented by V.

Shingles

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus can lie dormant in the body for many years and re-emerge as shingles. Shingles appear as a painful rash. It consists of red patches of skin with small blisters (vesicles) that look very similar to early chickenpox. Shingles usually clears in 2 to 3 weeks and rarely recurs.

Herpes zoster (shingles) - close-up of lesion

A close-up picture of herpes zoster skin lesions. Four small blisters are shown with redness around them. These vesicles will break, crust over, scab, and finally heal.

Herpes zoster (shingles) on the neck and cheek

This is a picture of herpes zoster (shingles) on the neck and cheek. Shingles are caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Outbreaks of shingles often follow the distribution of nerves in the skin. This distribution pattern is called a dermatome (see the "dermatomes" picture).

Herpes zoster (shingles) on the hand

Shingles occurs more commonly on the chest and back, but can involve the arms and legs. The small blisters on this person's hand represent involvement of the dermatome innervated by the 7th cervical nerve. (See the Dermatomes picture.)

Herpes zoster (shingles), disseminated

Herpes zoster (shingles) normally occurs in a limited area that follows a dermatome (see the "dermatome" picture). In individuals with damaged immune systems, herpes zoster may be widespread (disseminated), causing serious illness. Herpes zoster is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Causes

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

Treatment

Outlook (Prognosis)

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Prevention