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Can Stress Cause Shingles?

It’s become almost a cliché to tell family caregivers to remember to take care of themselves, but it’s for good reason: Many end up combatting serious illness after their immune systems become weakened under stress.

Shingles is one such stress-induced illness that can affect family caregivers who find themselves emotionally overwhelmed with care responsibilities.

First, What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster). Those who experienced chickenpox, most in their childhood, carry the dormant virus for decades without incident.

Almost one out of every three people in the U.S. will develop shingles and the vast majority are aged 50 or older. This is partly because the immune system weakens with age, so the combination of age and stress can leave a person susceptible to an outbreak of the long-dormant shingles virus.

While stress itself does not cause shingles, today’s typical family caregiver is in the age range to have had chickenpox as a child – and therefore would still have the virus in their body. This means that when the stress of caring for an elderly loved one becomes too much, the stress of caregiving may trigger a painful case of shingles.

An infographic illustrates how the chickenpox virus reactivates to cause shingles later in life.

Symptoms of Shingles

Symptoms include terrible pain in the form of a burning or tingling on one side of the body, followed a few days later by a red rash. Not everyone develops a rash. If someone suspects shingles, they should contact their healthcare provider. Seek urgent medical attention if the rash occurs near an eye or if you have a weakened immune system due to another chronic illness.

Most people who experience shingles are unable to work or perform a normal day-to-day routine for weeks or months and can also experience unfortunate complications.

Outsmart Shingles with a Vaccine

The time to prevent shingles starts at age 50 when you become eligible to receive the Shingrix vaccine. The process usually includes two shots spaced two to six months apart.

Once you’re inoculated, shingles should no longer be a concern, even if you experience the stress involved with a loved one’s health faltering and you’re being called upon to care for them.

The vaccine is not recommended for everyone, so ask your healthcare provider if you qualify.

The vaccine does not guarantee that a person won’t get shingles (it’s considered 90 percent effective), but for the few who get it anyway, the vaccine may greatly reduce the severity.

Today, a chickenpox vaccine has become routine for most children, and therefore their chances of developing shingles as older adults are significantly lower.

Shingles and Stress Go Hand in Hand

While stress doesn’t give you shingles, controlling your stress might help you avoid shingles.

Ways to relieve stress:

  1. Find someone or a group to talk to about your feelings.
  2. Get some exercise regularly.
  3. Be a detective and find out what’s causing stressful feelings.
  4. Practice gratitude to focus on the positive and bring calm.
  5. Bring in reinforcements to help support your aging loved one (and give yourself a break).

Can you get shingles more than once?

It’s rare, but yes, it is possible to have shingles more than once. This is why it’s important to repeat the shingles vaccine as your doctor recommends, even if you’ve had shingles before.

Is shingles contagious?

A person with shingles cannot give shingles to another person. However, a healthy person who comes into direct contact with active shingles can contract the herpes zoster virus, which can cause chickenpox if the person has no immunity.

Reduce Your Caregiving Duties with Professional, Trusted Respite Care

Providing in-home care for a loved one is a labor of love, but it can be emotionally taxing for anyone. Luckily, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. There’s a Homewatch CareGivers location near you that offers respite care services.

Let our caregivers step in and lend a hand so you can reclaim some of your time, manage your stress, and, hopefully, avoid a debilitating shingles outbreak.

To get started, call us at 888-404-5191 or request a complimentary consultation online.

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