Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the Varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. Once a person has had chicken pox, the virus remains in his body in a latent form and can reactivate later. The technical term for shingles is Herpes zoster, although it is not related to oral or genital herpes.
Shingles begins with itching, tingling or burning pain along a nerve. The area usually is located only on one side of the chest, abdomen or face, or on part of an arm or leg.
Because the rash does not develop immediately and the skin can feel painful and sensitive, people sometimes mistake the early signs of shingles for other disorders. When shingles affects the abdomen, for instance, it can seem like appendicitis, as explained by the New York Times Health Guide on abdominal pain.
Rash and Other Symptoms
Within several days, a rash appears along the nerve path, with painful, itchy red blisters. Additional symptoms may include a headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain and nausea.
The shingles rash may last two to three weeks, or in rare cases even longer. The blisters form crusts and then fall off.
The primary treatment includes pain relievers. The doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication as well. The most common side effects of antiviral drugs, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), are abdominal pain, nausea, headache and dizziness.