According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles, a viral illness that causes an itchy, burning rash to form on the skin, usually on one side of the body.
Shingles is caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus, also known as the varicella-zoster virus, in those who have had chickenpox. The reawakened virus spreads through the nerve cells to the skin, causing complex and often severe symptoms in both the skin and the nervous system.
The pain caused by shingles varies from person to person, with some experiencing only mild itching and others feeling intense pain from the slightest touch. Some cases of shingles can result in a condition called postherpetic neuralgia in which pain persists months to years after the skin lesions heal. Patients who are experiencing chronic pain and severe symptoms as a result of shingles have an increased risk of developing depression.
Shingles, Chronic Pain, and Depression
The link between chronic pain and depression is well-documented. Research suggests that up to 66 percent of patients with chronic pain symptoms may have co-existing major depression.
Chronic pain and depression are intertwined: People become depressed due to constant pain and feelings of hopelessness regarding their condition, and then their depression makes them more aware of the pain they're experiencing, which increases the pain they feel and their chances of slipping deeper into depression. Depression can also make pain harder to treat and lengthen recovery time.
Shingles and Depression Symptoms
People with shingles who have severe or chronic pain and their loved ones should watch out for the symptoms of depression. These symptoms include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety
- Loss of interest in pastimes or activities that were once enjoyable
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Sleeping too little, either due to insomnia or waking in the middle of the night
- Sleeping too much and finding it hard to get out of bed
- Inability to concentrate and focus that affects memory and decision-making
- Hopelessness about your medical condition or about life in general
- Pessimism that your medical condition won’t be cured or a general sense of pessimism
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Suicidal thoughts or actions