Shingles treatment often falls short of curing the virus. After the virus becomes active and attacks a patient’s nerve endings, a patient is subject to extreme amounts of pain. To make matters worse, shingles has no cure; therefore, treatments center on managing a patient’s pain rather than eliminating the disease. The disease cures itself over time, but this process can take weeks to months.
Shingles is caused by the dormant chicken pox virus becoming active. After being activated, the virus attacks and causes pain in the body’s nerve endings. Because nerve endings are affected, the virus presents itself through large amounts of pain. Shingles can occur anywhere on the body and is often accompanied by a red rash. Children, the elderly and individuals with suppressed immune systems are at a higher risk for developing shingles. There is a vaccine, but the vaccine is not 100% effective.
Pain Management and Anticonvulsants
Anticonvulsant medications are often prescribed to treat the pain caused by shingles. Anticonvulsant drugs are commonly used to control seizures. How anticonvulsants work is by blocking the neurons that cause seizures from firing. This is thought to happen because the medications dull nerve endings, thereby reducing them from firing. A patient may need to try several different anticonvulsants at different levels prior to finding one that is effective in managing pain levels.
Anticonvulsants and Shingles
Because the pain of shingles derives from neurons firing, anticonvulsants are used to hinder those neurons from firing. The intent of physicians prescribing anticonvulsants is to reduce the number of times the patient’s neurons fire and therefore feel pain. Anticonvulsants suppress neuron firing.
Anticonvulsants are almost always prescribed in pill form. These medications are heavily regulated by the government and can only be acquired through a physician’s prescription. The type and amount of anticonvulsant depends on your age, location of shingles, the severity of your virus and your other medical conditions. When prescribed, anticonvulsants often are begun at a low level and then are increased depending on a patient’s needs. As the amount of pain decreases and the shingles begins to disappear, the level of anticonvulsants will be gradually decreased and eventually stopped.
When Anticonvulsants Aren’t Used
Anticonvulsants are not the only type of pain management medication a physician can prescribe for a patient afflicted with shingles. Other pain medications and narcotics are commonly used. Anticonvulsants may not be used on patients with a history of other serious medical conditions or who would be negatively affected by the anticonvulsants. Other pain medications include pain pills, pain patches, topical ointments and other drugs designed for pain management.
Anticonvulsants and Antiviral Drugs
Depending on the type of antiviral drug prescribed, a physician may decide to use antiviral and anticonvulsant medications at the same time. Antiviral drugs are not guaranteed to cure shingles, but can assist in helping them disappear faster. Typically, anticonvulsant drugs do not negatively interact with each other, but there is no guarantee. Antiviral drugs may work better at assisting in treating shingles because they will stop the neurons from firing, quieting the virus so the antiviral drugs can assist in curing.