Shingles is a disease of the nervous system caused by varicella-zoster virus. This is the virus that causes chicken pox. For this reason, you can only have shingles if you have ever had chicken pox.
After a chicken pox outbreak, some of the varicella-zoster virus hides in nerve fibers that supply different dermatomes. The virus stays there for years or decades, producing only a couple of viral proteins, not enough to cause infection. Immune cells keep the virus in a latent state. When the immune system is compromised, the virus may become active once more. If that happens, shingles rather than chicken pox will occur.
Every part of the body is innervated by sensory nerves which branch out from the spinal cord. There are 12 thoracic nerves that relay sensations from the skin in the upper body to the brain. If any of these nerves is affected by herpes zoster virus, one can have symptoms of shingles on chest.
Can you get shingles under your breast?
Different nerves serve the areas just above the breast, on the breast and just below the breast. Shingles virus can affect any of these nerves. So can you get shingles under your breast? The short answer to this is yes, you can. What is shingles virus anyway?
Also referred to as herpes zoster virus or varicella-zoster virus, it is a virus in the herpes family. The virus is also responsible for chicken pox. Like other herpes viruses, it has the ability to remain in the body without causing signs of infection or being detected by immune cells.
The chest, lower back and face are the most commonly affected areas. One unique thing about shingles is that it mostly affects only one dermatome and only one side of the body. For example, shingles rash on breast may not extend to below or above the breast. The same applies to a rash above or below the breast. Also, a rash on the left breast will not affect the right one and vice versa.
Since specific dermatomes are supplied by nerve terminals branching from the spinal cord, shingles rash tends to occur in a stripe or band-like appearance. This can be seen more clearly in shingles pictures on back.
Shingles on breast symptoms
There is no major difference between shingles on breast symptoms and any other body part. Patients can however mistake other causes of breast rash with shingles.
First signs of shingles are flu-like symptoms. These include fever, fatigue, nausea and headache. Fever may not be present but fatigue is almost guaranteed. A day or two after, pain which may be accompanied by tingling, burning, stinging or itching develops. Some patients describe the pain as excruciating. In fact, it can mimic early warnings of chest pain or heart attack.
Blisters and rash appear 2-3 days after first symptoms. The blisters begin as tiny spots which quickly become lesions and later develop into blisters. Within a few days, the blisters may rupture and ooze before crusting over. Complete crusting over can take up to 2 weeks. It is when shingles blisters are open or oozing that shingles virus is most contagious. How long does shingles rash last? Normally, the rash lasts for 2-4 weeks.
Can shingles cause breast cancer?
The possibility of a positive cancer diagnosis is something everyone is afraid of. The good thing is that cancer is treatable if identified early. So can shingles cause breast cancer?
Technically, shingles does not cause breast cancer. It also does not increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Patients receiving breast cancer treatment may be at higher risk of developing shingles however. Some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy often compromise the immune system. This may open an opportunity for shingles virus to become active.
People with severe or recurring shingles may be at higher risk of getting breast cancer. This is because severe shingles symptoms are signs that something is very wrong with the immune system. Although cancer cells start as normal cells that have gone out of control, a healthy immune system may be able to recognize and destroy them before they can form tumors.
Breast cancer often starts with a painless and hard lump inside the breast. With time, the tumor will gradually gain mass and may become painful. Other signs of breast cancer include changes in the nipple, dimpling of the breast, nipple retraction, discharge and pain in the breast.
Diseases similar to shingles rash on breast
The funny thing is that a rash or pain on the breast is likely not going to be resulting from either cancer or shingles. Medical diagnosis is always important to confirm diagnosis however. Below are other disease and conditions that may present with symptoms similar to those of shingles on breast.
This is a bacterial infection that starts in the milk ducts, mostly due to clogging or blocking in the ducts. Trapped milk provides the nutrients required for bacteria to grow. Signs and symptoms include:
- Hard, painful swollen lump
An abscess is what a large boil would be like. A breast abscess is a bacterial infection that is usually painful and filled with pus. The infection mostly appears in the nipple, especially if there is an opening such as a crack on the skin or nipple piercing.
Mammary duct ectasia:
This condition mostly affects women above age 50. It occurs when fluid builds up in milk ducts. Signs and symptoms include:
- Green discharge from the nipple
Skin conditions like eczema, allergic reactions and psoriasis can also occur on breast. Even though they may cause a rash among other shingles-like symptoms, affected areas will not involve a single dermatome.
Diagnosis and treatment for shingles on breast
If an unexplained rash appears on your breast, have it checked by your doctor. Most causes of rash on breast require some medical attention. Shingles is often identifiable from its signs and symptoms. Your doctor may require your medical history and timeline of symptoms. To confirm diagnosis, a scarping of the blisters may be taken to the lab.
Treatment is primarily done with antiviral medications. For best results, treatment should be started within 72 hours of first symptoms. Otherwise, the drugs will have little or no impact.
Your doctor may also prescribe pain relievers. If not, you can buy them over the counter. Ibuprofen is a good example.
Sometimes, shingles pain outlasts all other symptoms and persists for months or years. This condition is known as post-herpetic neuralgia. It occurs is about 30% of all shingles patients. Doctors use medications like antidepressants, anticonvulsants and analgesics to treat post-herpetic neuralgia.
At home, you can try the following:
- Use a cool compress to reduce pain and relieve itching.
- Apply calamine lotion to keep blisters dry and thus promote quick healing. The lotion may also help relieve itchy symptoms.
- Use capsaicin ointment to reduce shingles nerve pain. In fact, you can make a home remedy with red pepper extract and water for similar benefits.
- Apply essential oils to soothe irritation, restore skin integrity and prevent bacterial infections. Essential oils may also reduce pain and act as shingles scars treatment.
- Keep shingles rash covered to prevent spread to other people. In this regard, avoid tight dressing, as it can aggravate pain. There is more to be learnt on how to keep shingles from spreading on your body, especially when toddlers, immunocompromised individuals or older people are involved.
Finally, you can consider a shingles vaccine. Two vaccines have already been approved by FDA for shingles. They are recommended for people over age 60. Check out more details on CDC recommendations for shingles vaccine. Chicken pox vaccine is also helpful for people who have never contracted the disease or gotten the vaccine. Does chicken pox vaccine prevent shingles? Technically, it doesn’t. What it does is protect the patient from severe symptoms or serious outbreaks of chicken pox.
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