Shingles and Treatment by Physiatrists and Pain Management Specialists

February 2, 2013

Topic: Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

Shingles and Treatment by Physiatrists and Pain Management Specialists

Chicken pox is a common childhood disease that used to affect approximately 4 million individuals every year, but thanks to the chicken pox vaccine, many kids are spared from the highly contagious virus. However, those who were not previously immunized and experienced the condition, and even those that have had the chicken pox vaccination, are still at risk for shingles.

Once an individual contracts the virus, also known as herpes zoster, it stays in their body dormant even after all symptoms cease to exist. ‘Shingles’ is what happens if the virus becomes active again years later. Risk factors for shingles include: increased age, immune suppression, and certain medications.

Early symptoms of the disease include burning, shooting pain and itchiness that is typically located on one side of the body. After one to 14 days, a rash or blisters appear, which is usually what a clinician will use to inform his or her diagnosis.

Currently, there is no cure for shingles, but early diagnosis can help affected persons recover quickly and minimize the severity of symptoms. Often a doctor will prescribe a patient with antiviral medications, as well as medications for pain.

One in three Americans affected

About 1 million Americans experience shingles each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, half of the cases typically occur among men and women who are aged 60 or older.

Since it is prevalent among older adults, especially those who have compromised immune systems due to various reasons, there are specific specialists trained to diagnose and treat shingles. For instance, physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation) and interventional pain management clinicians help affected patients manage the condition and avoid permanent disability.

Serious complications may result

Individuals older than 60 are more likely to experience serious complications compared to younger adults. For instance, a person may get the rash on his or her face, which could potentially cause hearing and vision problems. In severe instances, the cornea – the front outer covering of the eye – can become infected and may lead to temporary or permanent blindness. In addition, some people get postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is when the pain associated with shingles symptoms lasts for months or years, even after the rash or blisters heal.

“Prompt diagnosis is important so that the appropriate treatment can be initiated in a timely manner to minimize loss of function,” said Huaiyu Tan, M.D., physiatrist and interventional pain medicine physician at the Andrews Institute. 

Patients who experience complications like these are the ones who may greatly benefit from the help of specialists, who assist individuals recovering from illnesses restore functional ability and quality of life. They use non-surgical solutions to treat conditions like shingles that affect nerves and can help patients find pain relief.

Non-surgical techniques

Interventional pain management specialists use a combination of medication, interventional techniques, cognitive behavioral health and/or alternative medicine to decrease pain. Topical pain medicines and nerve pain medications are helpful. Interventional procedures which may assist in decreasing pain include: epidural steroid injections, intercostal nerve blocks and sympathetic nerve blocks. Spinal cord stimulation is also another technique which uses electrical stimulation to block pain signals.

In addition to pain management, physiatrists can then help patients restore flexibility and rebuild their strength, and ultimately restore function. They work with patients to develop an individualized treatment plan that may combine traditional services with alternative ones.

Acute illnesses such as shingles can take a hold of peoples’ lives, which is why these two specialties work together to provide affected patients with individualized, comprehensive treatments to restore their health and get their lives back on track.

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