Post-Herpetic Neuralgia

Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is caused by damage that occurs to the peripheral nerve fibers during a shingles infection. On average, one out of every five patients with shingles develops PHN. However, the risk of having the condition increases with age. People over age 60 who have had shingles have as much as a 50 percent chance of developing PHN.

Pain associated with post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) can be very intense, often described by patients as deep, aching and unbearable. In some cases, even a light touch, like the pressure of a shirt or gust of wind, can cause intense pain.

Because of the intensity of pain, it can interfere with daily life, including sleep and appetite. Depression is common because of the severe pain and social isolation that can occur.

Some PHN patients have to stop their normal activities for months. And for some, the pain can last for several years.

There are no specific tests available to test for post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). However, people who have recovered from shingles and experience an ongoing pain in the region affected by the initial shingles rash, should contact their doctor to determine if they have developed PHN.

There are a variety of effective pain relief medications, but unfortunately no cure for post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). In most cases, the pain of PHN subsides with time.

Treatment options that provide pain relief include:

  • Skin patches
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Narcotic analgesics
  • Antidepressants

At UCSF Medical Center, pain management specialists also use a skin patch with capsaicin, a hot-pepper compound that's found in jalapenos, that has been effective in treating this pain/

The effectiveness of treatment varies widely among patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a lidocaine skin patch for PHN pain and an anti-seizure drug, called gabapentin. Narcotic analgesics and antidepressant medications also have been effective.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pain Management Center
2255 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94143-1654
Phone: (415) 885-PAIN (7246)
New Patients: (415) 885-3552
Fax: (415) 885-3883
Appointment information