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Learning About Postherpetic Neuralgia

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Neuralgia is a type of severe pain occurring along a nerve. It happens because of a change in the nerve function or structure because of damage or irritation in a nerve. Postherpetic neuralgia affects both skin and nerve fibers and can be quite painful. The condition is a complication of shingles.

Two Types of Pain

Many people are unaware that there are actually two categories of pain: nociceptive or non-nociceptive. If you have ever felt a needle or pin prick your skin, certain pain receptors feel the touch and the needle breaking through or the pin pricking you. Nociceptive pain occurs when your body’s pain receptors sense things like touch, temperature, stretching, or vibrations. Non-nociceptive pain is also known as neuropathic pain. This type of pain actually originates from the nervous system itself. It is sometimes referred to as a trapped or pinched nerve. In this case, the actual nerve is relaying pain signals because it is either irritated or damaged. Those who suffer from neuralgia have neuropathic pain.

Postherpetic Neuralgia

Postherpetic neuralgia is experienced as a continuous nerve pain often due to the shingles. The herpes varicella-zoster virus is the cause of shingles. This virus — the same one that causes chickenpox — remains dormant in the body after a bout with childhood chickenpox. Our immune systems normally will keep the virus in check, but sometimes the dormant virus can re-emerge. At this point, the condition is known as shingles — a nerve infection that also irritates surrounding skin. Normally, nerves of the abdomen and chest are affected on one side of the body. If shingle pain lingers after shingles has run its course, it is termed postherpetic neuralgia.

Causes of Postherpetic Neuralgia

Shingles can cause nerve damage, disrupting the normal nerve function. The nerve can then begin sending out chaotic, random pain signals to the brain. The sufferer will experience this as a burning, throbbing pain along the length of the nerve. It is believed that shingles causes the formation of scar tissue next to affected nerves. This causes pressure upon these nerves, and they respond by sending inaccurate pain signals.

Postherpetic Neuralgia Treatment

How postherpetic neuralgia is treated depends upon the type of pain experienced and the neurological health of the patient. Steroids are sometimes employed to treat the condition. It usually involves an injection near the spinal cord. Other patients receive painkillers, while others are given lidocaine skin patches, treatment with TENS devices, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and other treatments. If you believe you are suffering from postherpetic neuralgia, you should consult a pain management doctor to help relieve your pain and get you on the road to recovery.