Can You Die from Shingles? Tests and How Long Does it Take to Heal

Can we take a moment of gratitude for your body’s largest organ, the skin? It’s literally holding us all together! In honor of this weird and wonderful body part, here are some peculiar tidbits about skin:

  • The average adult’s skin spread out is 2 square meters.
  • Skin is around 15 percent of the body’s weight with a median of 9 pounds.
  • The skin on the feet is thickest and the skin on the eyelids is thinnest.
  • You have renewed skin every 28 days.
  • The average human sheds nine pounds of skin cells a year.
  • More than 1,000 bacteria live on your skin.
  • A billion tons of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere is dead skin flakes.
  • Some of that is repugnant, right? But also fascinating! Skin is one of those entities we don’t pay much attention to until something goes astray, like a shingles rash.

Is There a Test for Shingles?

Once the rash appears, the majority of doctors are able to diagnose shingles by sight. The rash has defining characteristics that differentiate it from other rashes (like impetigo, contact dermatitis, insect bites, folliculitis, or scabies) like:

  • Affects just one side of the face or body
  • Stings or burns
  • Rises as red bumps that blossom into blisters
  • Occurs concurrently as fever, headache, nausea, and/or chills

How to test for shingles if the rash isn’t present? Health practices can, but it isn’t usually utilized unless the patient is a unique position like:

  • Scheduled for an organ transplant
  • Experiencing a weakened immune system either from an autoimmune disorder or medication

In the case that the hospital does want to test for shingles, there are two tests:

Antibody blood test. A sample of blood is drawn and the laboratory puts it under a microscope to find the antibodies the human body produces to combat chickenpox. Results can be murky because this procedure can only definitively tell you whether or not you have been exposed to chickenpox at some point in your life. It can’t foretell whether or not it will induce a shingles outbreak.

Viral detection. A swab is taken of blisters and examined for the herpes zoster virus. Results will return from the lab within 1 to 3 days.

The complete diagnosis comes from a blend of lab tests joined with a conclusion of symptoms.

Can You Die from Shingles?

We all comprehend how ruthless shingles can be. It is painful, itchy, and the distress can extend well beyond the end of the rash. But can you die from shingles? In a roundabout way, people have lost their lives to complications from shingles.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied 67,000 medical records of Medicare patients diagnosed with shingles who also suffered a heart attack or stroke in the 12 months following determination. The findings were published in the Public Library of Science journal (PLOS Medicine) and concluded that patients were 2.4 times more likely to have an ischemic stroke. The chances of having a heart attacked increased 1.7 times in the weeks following the outbreak. The greatest risk was in the first week after diagnosis.

Doctors hypothesize that the virus may be replicated within artery walls, prompting fatty buildups to break off and migrate to the heart or brain. Alternatively, the pain from the condition could skyrocket blood pressure and spark a cardiovascular response.

How Long Does It Take For Shingles to Heal?

The varicella-zoster virus never leaves your body once you have picked it up. For approximately two-thirds of people, after their childhood chickenpox trauma, they never see a resurgence of the virus. The other unlucky few may have shingles pop up for them later in life, especially after the age of 50. It lays low until the immune system is vulnerable to materialize and torment the host. How long does it take for shingles to heal once it has become active again?

The Different Healing Stages of Herpes Zoster Virus

Compare your episode to this general timeline of healing stages:

Skin on one side of the trunk, shoulder, or neck becomes sensitive, possibly painful. The surface may be hot, itchy, or maybe even numb and tingly.

Within one to five days of pain emergence, a red rash forms in the tender area.

Up to 3 days later, the rash morphs into fluid-filled blisters.

One week to 10 days later, the blisters burst and crust over.

Parallel to the blisters, one may feel fatigued, fever, chills, headache, nausea, or sensitivity to light.

Most arrivals of the shingles rash will alleviate after 3 to 5 weeks.

Why Do I Have Pain After Shingles Healed?

Pain can permeate long after the scabs clear up, unfortunately for the one in three people who will endure this brutal flare. Post-herpetic neuropathy (PHN) is a classification of nerve damage that occurs post-shingles. Around 20% of people with shingles will develop PHN. The family of herpes viruses exists and migrates along the nerve pathways, sometimes leaving behind scar tissue that causes intense pain.

The majority of patients see the pain dissipate within 12 months, but a small jinxed group deal with the pain for years.

 

 

Article References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/do-i-have-shingles#2
  2. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/aging/shingles-isn-t-just-nasty-it-could-kill-you-too-n480571
  3. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001919
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321198.php
  5. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/shingles
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/147963.php
  8. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-herpetic-neuralgia/

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