Shingles is a painful skin disorder which can lead to serious complications, if it occurs during pregnancy. The patient should be treated immediately to avoid further health risks.
Shingles is one of the common health problems that can affect a pregnant woman. This disease is caused by Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV). It can also affect the baby inside the womb. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox, which affects the nerves and surrounding skin area. It is said that when a person recovers from chickenpox, he/she becomes immune to the disease. However, the virus does not go away completely, rather it stays dormant in the roots of the nerves, only to flare up in the form of shingles later.
Most young women are immune to Varicella (chickenpox) as they already have the antibodies for chickenpox or are inoculated. If a pregnant woman, who has had chickenpox earlier comes in contact with a person who has shingles, she might get affected by the latter infection. However, if a pregnant woman who never had chickenpox comes in contact with shingles virus, she is likely to develop chickenpox. Moreover, the immune system of fetuses is not properly developed, hence they get easily affected by this infection through their mothers.
The virus can get reactivated when the immune system fails to work against it. If you display the following symptoms, your doctor will study your medical history to diagnose the infection of shingles. A lab test of the skin sample from the affected areas can also detect the presence of the virus.
Symptoms of this disease in pregnant women are similar to those manifested in any other person.
• Extreme pain
• Nausea and diarrhea
• Chills and fever
• Stress and headache
• Sensitive skin
• Itching and tingling sensation
• Difficulty during urinating
• Red fluid-filled sores
• Rash on one side of the body
• Breathing problems
• Fatigue and insomnia
• Swelling of lymph nodes
• No taste in the mouth
• Genital sores
• Joint pain
• Loss of eye motion
Life-threatening: The effect of this disease on the fetus depends on the stage of pregnancy. Shingles poses a threat to the life of both the mother and child, if the infection occurs within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Postherpetic Neuralgia: Even after shingles is treated, postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain) can prevail for many years at a stretch.
Birth Defects: There are chances that pregnant women suffering from this infection might give birth to babies with congenital defects syndrome. These defects vary from cataracts to mental retardation or problems in development of vital organs like brain, head, limbs, etc.
Affecting Immunity: As the immune system gets weaker because of this infection, it can put the woman at the risk of contracting other diseases too.
Varicella Pneumonitis: If shingles affects the mother, she has to be treated immediately in order to protect her from other health complications. If treatment is not given at the correct time, the most dangerous disease that can occur is varicella pneumonitis, which can be life-threatening for both mother and the child.
Chickenpox: The baby might get chickenpox at birth as his immunity is not well-developed.
Hearing and Vision Loss: If shingles occurs on the face, it may cause scarring which may affect the ears and eyes, leading to permanent loss of hearing and vision.
Stroke and Meningitis: In some cases, shingles can also affect the brain and spinal cord, causing stroke and meningitis.
Others: It can also affect vital organs like heart, liver, intestines and pancreas of the pregnant woman.
Pregnant women who are affected by this disease are prescribed antiviral drugs like valacyclovir, famciclovir and acyclovir. Along with these drugs, the doctor may also prescribe certain painkillers and ointments for the rash and pain, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). However, it is advisable to avoid taking NSAIDs in the later stages of pregnancy as they can pose a threat to the life of the unborn child. The rash disappears completely in 3-4 weeks, however the pain persists for a long time. Though there are several measures that can be used to reduce the pain, one may have to live with the discomfort for some time as it takes time to recover completely. One can also resort to cold compress and cold baths using oatmeal, and application of calamine lotion on the affected area for some relief.
It is advisable to have a blood test to determine the presence of antibodies against this virus before you get pregnant. In case you are pregnant and notice symptoms of shingles or chickenpox, it is best to consult the doctor immediately, to ensure your safety and that of your unborn child.
Disclaimer ~ This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.