Are you at risk for shingles? Be proactive

Senior Health

By pH health care professionals

A diagnosis of shingles, also called “herpes zoster,” is one of the most common in the primary care and urgent care settings. The CDC says 1 in 3 people in the U.S. will develop it at some point in his or her lifetime.

What can you do to recognize this infectious disease?

Typical symptoms of shingles include:

  • A rash on one side of the body
  • Tingling pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Occasional fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Atypical complications include:

What causes shingles?

The reason shingles occurs is the chickenpox virus! This virus (also called varicella) doesn’t completely die when the scabs and pockmarks heal. It lives in your nerves and gets “reactivated,” usually in times of extreme stress. Just like in chickenpox, the shingles rash grows in stages, eventually crusting over and disappearing. It all takes about three weeks.

Who is most at risk for shingles?

The following people are at risk for shingles:

  • People who have poor immune systems (such as from medications like steroids or from AIDS)
  • People with kidney or lung disease
  • Elderly people
  • People with autoimmune disorders
  • People with depression 

How can you be proactive?

If you've never had chickenpox, consider a chickenpox vaccine. Since shingles is so common, you could come down with chickenpox after being exposed to a co-worker or spouse with shingles. The shingles vaccine is 14 times more potent than the chickenpox vaccine, but both should achieve the same end. After exposure to chickenpox, vaccination is effective in preventing the disease if given within a couple of days. The vaccine will ensure that the immune system is prepared to fight down the dormant virus in times of stress. People 60 years and older should almost always have the shingles vaccine. However, people with chronic illnesses, like diabetes, can get it at a younger age.

For everyone else, avoid stress — shingles spikes during finals, the end of the business quarter, and during the holidays. Also, remember that people who have weakened immune systems are more susceptible to shingles, so be proactive in keeping your immune system as healthy as possible. Read more about how to do that here.

What should you do if you think you have shingles?

If you think you have shingles, get to a doctor as soon as possible. The medications will work better if you start it earlier instead of waiting. And make sure to avoid babies and children — you are now highly contagious to people who haven’t had chickenpox. 

Consider sharing this vital information with someone you love who may be more at risk for shingles, such as an elderly parent, a friend who is very stressed, or a sibling with a weakened immune system. Be proactive – pass it on.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.