Shingles is the medical term for a specific viral infection that causes a painful rash. This rash will appear over a specific area of the body where the previously dormant varicella-zoster virus, that causes chicken-pox, becomes activated in the nerves cells near the spine due to certain factors such as being ill from another infection which causes the immune system to drop. Symptoms such as pain and numbness after shingles may occur and are referred to as postherpetic neuralgia.
Other symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia include a burning sensation, sensitivity of the affected area, and tingling after shingles. The risk factors associated with developing this complication is being an advanced age (over 60), and the area where the shingles initially occurred.
Management of postherpetic neuralgia
There is no cure for postherpetic neuralgia, but there are conservative measures which can be incorporated to help alleviate the symptoms caused by this complication.
These measures include the use of lidocaine or capsaicin skin patches that are applied to the affected area. The latter of these has been shown to be effective for up to three months after the patch is applied. Anti-epileptic medications such as pregabalin and gabapentin help to stabilize the neuronal activity in the nerve cells resulting in a decrease in the symptoms. Antidepressant medications such as amitryptiline and duloxetine have shown to affect the way pain is sensed by the body, so these also help to bring about a relief of symptoms.
If these medications aren’t effective, then opioid medications such as codeine and tramadol may be prescribed. These drugs do have the potential to result in dependence though which can lead to addictive behavior, so these are potential concerns that need to be weighed against the benefit of the medication to the patient.
Stem cell therapy for postherpetic neuralgia
Stem cells are primitive cells that undergo differentiation into different tissues of the body such as bone, blood, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. They are therefore responsible for the repair of damaged tissues but as one gets older, the body loses the ability to attract stem cells to complete the recovery process. Stem cell therapy has been shown in many clinical research trials to be an extremely effective form of treatment in patients who have experienced injuries to these tissues.
Numerous studies have shown that the intravenous administration of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) help with relieving pain caused by neuropathic problems. MSCs are known to release anti-inflammatory compounds that help to modulate pain in affected individuals.
Postherpetic neuralgia is considered a neuropathic condition because the nerve cells are affected to elicit the mentioned symptoms. Therefore, it stands to reason that stem cell therapy in patients with postherpetic neuralgia should be able to repair damaged nerve tissue, and MSC administration can produce anti-inflammatory effects to reduce the pain, numbness and burning sensation caused by this complication of shingles.
Stem cell therapy is only known to have minor side-effects associated it such as headaches. It is not associated with any other major issues or complications and is, therefore, a very safe form of treatment.