Shingles is an outbreak of a rash or blisters on the skin that may cause severe pain. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an attack of chickenpox, the virus lies silent in the nerve tissue. Years later, the virus can reappear in the form of shingles. Although it is most common in people over age 50, anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. It also is common in people with weakened immune systems due to HIV infection, chemotherapy or radiation treatment, transplant operations, and stress.
Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, generally on one side of the body or face. A rash appears as a band or patch of raised dots on the side of the trunk or face. The rash develops into small, fluid-filled blisters, which begin to dry out and crust over within several days. When the rash is at its peak, symptoms can range from mild itching to intense pain. Most people with shingles have only one bout with the disease in their lifetime. However, those with impaired immune systems ' for example, people with AIDS or cancer ' may suffer repeated episodes.
If you suspect you have shingles, see a doctor right away. The severity and duration of an attack of shingles can be reduced significantly by immediate treatment with antiviral drugs. These drugs also may help prevent the painful aftereffects of shingles known as postherpetic neuralgia. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases currently is testing a shingles vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The vaccine they are testing is similar to the one used to immunize against chickenpox. After the shot, some people have had some discomfort around the area of the injection. In addition, a few people have had a low-grade fever. For more information about this study, call 1-800-411-1222.
Many older people notice an increased number of bruises, especially on their arms and legs. The skin becomes thinner with age and sun damage. Loss of fat and connective tissue weakens the support around blood vessels, making them more susceptible to injury. The skin bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal.
Sometimes bruising is caused by medications or illness. If bruising occurs in areas always covered by clothing, see a doctor.
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