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A person wearing a braid looks down at a shingles outbreak on their arm.

The Risk Of Shingles

Each day I learn diabetes puts me at risk for other things. My epiphany started when I broke my ankle a month ago. I was pretty immobile which is not good for diabetes. The recovery is taking longer than I expected because, in part, of diabetes (and my age but we’re not going to talk about that).

Shingles and type 2 diabetes

A month into the ankle break, I got shingles. Where the h*ll did that come from?? I hit the internet to see what shingles were and how/why I got them. The connection is having had chickenpox as a kid. The virus lays dormant afterward and can reactivate later in life as shingles. Shingles begin with a very painful rash. The rash follows a nerve pathway. It looks very much like chickenpox; it comes out as blisters but it doesn’t cover the whole body. It stays localized to one side of the body. There are a few theories related to why the virus reactivates. Stress, coming down with another virus, having a weakened immune system are all part of the picture. Apparently people with type 2 diabetes are very susceptible to it.1-2 Great.

Shingles and stress

For me, it was likely stress-related. I hadn’t been sick and my immune system is generally very strong. Life had been very stressful in the last year or two. My dad was dying, then did. I had a major exam to write for the recertification of one of my credentials. We experienced flooding in our home. Then the ankle break. I could go on but I think you get the picture. I was stressed.

What to expect with shingles

Looking back, what I thought was muscle soreness from sleeping in the wrong position turned out to be the start of the shingles. I don’t really know how to describe it but the muscle soreness was different. It was sore and stiff but tingly. When the rash erupted, I was pretty sure I knew what it was because I had read up on it before. Mine was running in a line across the left side of my back/shoulder. It was painful. The blisters came out a couple of days after the rash did. Of course, it was the weekend so my doctor was not available. It was confirmed 2 days later.

My treatment for shingles

My doctor started me on a high dose of antiviral for a week to help shorten the duration of the rash. He spent time educating me: shingles usually last 5-6 weeks, it is contagious for about 10 days after the rash appears, I have to stay away from the elderly, pregnant women and babies. The doctor put me on a medication to help reduce the nerve pain. I could be on it for a while in the hopes that I would not experience post-herpetic neuralgia, common in folks with type 2 diabetes. This is nerve pain that remains after the shingles are gone. His last recommendation was to purchase a specific natural product cream that contains capsaicin, an anti-inflammatory that comes from red chili peppers. I also learned the product contained rutin, a bioflavonoid found in fruits and vegetables that acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, blocking pain pathways. According to my doctor, his grandfather, who was also a doctor but in Bangladesh, had been using capsaicin to treat nerve pain. It had been used there for generations. I bought the cream. All of these treatments made it bearable.

My takeaway about shingles

On the bright side, I learned:

  • MOST people only get shingles once
  • There are treatments to lessen the severity of the virus
  • There is a vaccine to prevent it
  • My husband can get that vaccine
  • I can’t get the vaccine for a year after the shingles infection
  • If I was going to get shingles, at least it was while I was already housebound so I couldn’t spread it

Once again, diabetes puts me at risk for things I never expected. Ugh.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Papagianni, M., Metallidis, S., & Tziomalos, K. (2018). Herpes Zoster and Diabetes Mellitus: A Review. Diabetes therapy : research, treatment and education of diabetes and related disorders, 9(2), 545–550. doi:10.1007/s13300-018-0394-4
  2. Ke C-C, Lai H-C, Lin C-H, Hung C-J, Chen D-Y, Sheu WH-H, et al. (2016) Increased Risk of Herpes Zoster in Diabetic Patients Comorbid with Coronary Artery Disease and Microvascular Disorders: A Population-Based Study in Taiwan. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0146750. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0146750

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