Shingles and Stress


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Is shingles caused by stress? The other day, my mom was telling me how a family friend of ours has shingles. He is a very healthy 24 year old man, and a graduate of Penn State if I might add. My mom said that he got it because of stress, because he is going through law school right now. I questioned her about how exactly stress causes it, and she that that you get so weak and your immune system breaks down and you get shingles. Unsatisfied with the response, I decided to do a little research on whether it is actually stress related, and if yes, the reasoning for that.
Some reasons or causes for typical cases of shingles include: being older than 60, you had chicken pox before the age of 1, or that your immune system is weakened by medications or disease. Most of the symptoms include: red patches on the skin, small blisters, head aches, fever and chills, and a general ill feeling.
Based on typical reasons for shingles, he didn't have any of those 3. He didn't have chicken pox before 1, but he did have chicken pox. He is definitely not under 60. His immune system wasn't weakened by medication or disease, but it may have been weakened by stress.
According to studies, stress does indeed weaken the immune system. It is extremely common to find shingles in aging immune systems. Our family friends must have been very stressed and  weak to have obtained shingles. The bottom line is that stress does not directly cause shingles, but it weakens the immune system.
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My advice for people who have had chicken pox is to take care of your body. Drink water, wash your hands before you eat, don't share drinks, and take vitamins. Also, manage your stress. Talk to someone close with you whenever your stressed out, don't keep it bottled up inside you.

3 Comments

Is shingles just a diffeciency in the immune system? How is this related to cancer, which also affects the immune system directly? I took a quick look into this and turns out that shingles does not cause cancer, but has a reverse correlation. Cancer causing a lowered immune system, opens the body to the symptoms seen in shingles. Although, does having shingles lead to other diseases in general?

This WebMD article gives a nice overview of shingles, its causes, and the basic structure of the virus itself. The thing that causes shingles is the "waking" of the chicken pox virus after being dormant for years. Weak immune systems tend to cause this "awakening" process. It is known that stress can weaken the immune system, so I don't thing your mom's explanation is entirely terrible at all. A good scientific question to look at here is what is the relationship between a weak immune system and the virus "awakening"? Are we fighting the chicken pox/shingles virus our entire lives (after having the chicken pox) and when our immune system weakens it "prioritizes" what it fights off for our overall health, allowing the shingles virus to awaken? Or perhaps is this just a correlation and a test is needed to really know the cause of all this? The problem I find with testing is the ethics behind it. You cannot justify weakening some people's immune systems to see if they'll get a disease while leaving others' immune systems alone, plus the fact that those who were weakened could become prone to even more serious illness. So then, can our data about this remain observational only?

Virus' never leave the body and for that they are continued to very dangerous. When a virus comes back, which it can at any time, the body deals with it very differently. The shingles virus and chicken pox virus are always in your body and that is the most dangerous part about them is that they never leave. Due to the fact that they never leave when you get surgery or anything that can cause stress or a lowered immune system you will be more prone to them because your body can only handle so much at once.

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