Ladies, how many of you had chicken pox when you were a kid or even older? You may or may not be aware that having had chicken pox greatly increases your chances of developing shingles later on in life which can also increase your risk of developing heart disease.
First off, what is shingles?
According to one source:
“Shingles is a condition caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox (herpes zoster). Over 90% of North Americans are infected with herpes zoster, which means we have been exposed to it and have evidence of the virus in our bloodstream. One out of three people will not get a rash. Perhaps as a child you only had a fever, runny nose, and body aches. But after exposure, the virus travels, hides, and lives quietly in your nerve cells called neurons. Studies suggest that the virus prefers special neurons called ganglions in our upper body that control pain in our upper trunk, chest, and face.”
“Years later, when conditions are right, the virus can “wake up,” reproduce itself, and travel to the skin by way of sensory nerve fibers resulting in an incurable, burning, painful, blister-like rash. Usually, the pain and blisters are on one side of the upper or lower back, chest, abdomen, or face. Days to months prior to the blisters, there is burning pain (like a sunburn), and the rash arrives lasting 7 to 10 days. A more serious subset of the disease, herpes zoster ophthalmicus, affects the face and eye, causing pain and visual problems, and the loss of independent living for older sufferers. The blisters and pain can be treated by pain and antiviral medications, which shorten the course of the virus and help prevent a chronic pain syndrome called postherpetic neuralgia(PHN).”
When shingles develop on the face and around the eyes, the pain can be debilitating and it can interfere with vision and hearing. If the shingles infects the eye, it can cause permanent loss of vision. If there are any open sores that get infected with shingles, it can result in the destruction in the underlying tissue and scarring on the skin. The intense pain from shingles can be persistent, last for months and even years. It can interfere with sleep and many normal daily activities and has been a direct cause of depression in some individuals. If a person with an immune deficiency or a suppressed immune system develops shingles, the rash can become more extensive, last longer and can lead to other illnesses including pneumonia.
Unfortunately, shingles occurs more in females than males, but both are susceptible. Sorry, ladies, but it seems that shingles loves to strike women during and shortly after menopause. Women are also more like to have recurrences of shingles than men.
The older a person gets, the greater chances they have of developing shingles. Some studies have claimed that 50% of the people age 80 will develop some form of shingles. Since the virus that causes shingles is part of the same herpes simplex that causes cold sores on the lips, people who are prone to cold sores are also more prone to developing shingles as they get older.
Some studies also indicate that the development of shingles can increase one’s risk of developing heart disease. Whether a direct cause of the virus or due to the stress shingles puts on the body, including mental and emotional stress, researchers are not sure, but they do believe there is an increased risk of heart disease.
There is a shingles vaccine available at most doctors’ offices and even many pharmacies. It’s highly recommended that everyone, especially women over the age of 50, get a shingles vaccine. Even if the vaccine isn’t covered by basic Medicare, it’s a couple hundred dollars well spent, especially if you are prone to cold sores.