Shingles is a painful, blistery rash that can linger for weeks. Even when the rash fades, the pain can continue for a year or even longer.
One in three Americans can expect to get shingles in their lifetime; about a million new cases are diagnosed each year.
Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.
Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Anyone who has had chickenpox—a group that includes most U.S. adults—is at risk for shingles because the virus remains dormant in the nervous system throughout life. As you age, your body’s natural defenses weaken, and shingles outbreaks can occur.
Your risk for shingles increases if you:
- Are over age 50
- Have a medical condition that weakens the immune system
- Are undergoing cancer treatment
- Take certain medications such as post-transplant medications and steroids
The shingles vaccine can markedly reduce the risk of getting shingles. A new version of the vaccine offers 97 percent protection, and the few who do have an outbreak later have a much shorter, much less intense experience.
Carilion Clinic's Family Medicine team recommends the vaccine for:
- All people over age 60
- People 50 and older with chronic pain, skin problems or other increased risk factors
If you had chickenpox as a child, your primary care provider can advise you on when to get the shingles vaccine.
This article was reviewed by Carilion Clinic's Internal Medicine Department.