Shingles is usually easy to diagnose based on visual clues. If you have shingles symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible and be prepared to discuss your history of exposure to chickenpox.
If you arrive at your doctor's office with a rash that resembles shingles, they may start by asking your history. Shingles is more likely in adults who caught the chickenpox virus as infants rather than later in their childhood, and is also more common in people who are at least 60 years old, although it can appear at any age. Finally, your doctor may ask about any other underlying diseases or medications you take regularly, as shingles commonly appears in people whose immune systems are not functioning properly. Even diabetes can make you more susceptible to shingles.
Most cases of shingles follow a very specific pattern that allows your doctor to diagnose you without much testing beyond a visual inspection and knowledge of your medical history. A shingles outbreak generally starts with a feeling of pain, tingling or burning on one side of your body. This eventually progresses into a distinctive rash or clusters of blisters.
Your doctor can generally diagnose shingles because of the localized nature of the rash on one side of your body. Shingles rashes also often follow the lines of nerve pathways, also known as dermatomes. As a result, the rash often appears as a stripe or band around the rib cage or abdomen. It can also appear on the face or neck. There are few other conditions that mimic this type of rash, so visual examination is typically a reliable method of diagnosis when combined with your medical history.
If your shingles appears in an atypical way, or there are other complicating factors, your doctor may confirm the diagnosis by taking a tissue scraping from the blisters. However, because they often look very similar to samples from blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus, these results are difficult to interpret. This method is usually used to rule out unrelated skin conditions, such as psoriasis. There is also a blood test that can detect the active shingles virus.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease that can affect anyone who has previously had chickenpox. Most people get that disease during childhood, and their immune systems fight it off. However, the virus that causes chickenpox remains dormant in your system and can become active again many years later, causing shingles. Diagnosing shingles is usually an easy prospect, and your doctor should look at several key factors.