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Postherpetic Neuralgia Treatment & Management

  • Author: W Alvin McElveen, MD; Chief Editor: Robert A Egan, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 24, 2015

Medical Care

The financial implications for treatment of postherpetic neuralgia are becoming more important as the population ages. Dworkin et al examined annualized costs for persistent pain in patients with herpes zoster. Annualized costs were $4917 for commercially insured patients, $2696 for Medicare patients and $9310 for Medicaid patients.[7]

A clinical trial has shown that a live-attenuated varicella-zoster virus vaccine is effective against herpes zoster (HZ) and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Brisson estimates that for 65-year-olds, the number needed to vaccinate (HZ vaccine efficacy=63%, PHN vaccine efficacy=67%, no waning) to prevent a case of HZ, a case of PHN, an HZ death, a life-year lost, and a quality-adjusted life-year lost is estimated to be 11 (90% Crl: 10-13), 43 (90% Crl: 33-53), 23,319 (90% Crl: 15,312-33,139), 3762 (90% Crl: 1650-4629), and 165 (90% Crl: 105-197), respectively. Results of this study show that the main benefit of HZ vaccination is prevention of morbidity caused by pain.[8]

In March 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lowered the approved age for use of Zostavax to 50-59 years. Zostavax was already approved for use in individuals aged 60 years or older. Annually, in the United States, shingles affects approximately 200,000 healthy people aged 50-59 years. Approval was based on a multicenter study, the Zostavax Efficacy and Safety Trial (ZEST).[9] The trial was conducted in the United States and 4 other countries in 22,439 people aged 50-59 years. Participants were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive either Zostavax or placebo. Participants were monitored for at least 1 year to see if shingles developed. Compared with placebo, Zostavax significantly reduced the risk of developing zoster by approximately 70%.

Chen et al found vitamin C plasma concentrations are lower in 38 patients with postherpetic neuralgia compared with 39 healthy volunteers (P < .001). In this study, restoration of vitamin C concentrations decreased spontaneous pain (but not brush-evoked pain) by 3.1 on a numeric pain scale in the postherpetic neuralgia group compared with placebo treatment (P < 0.001). The authors concluded that vitamin C status is a component in postherpetic neuralgia and is a component involved in spontaneous pain relief.[10]

In a small study by Kanai et al, lidocaine 4% ophthalmic drops were administered to 24 patients with ophthalmic postherpetic neuralgia in a crossover manner. A significant reduction in eye and forehead pain was observed in patients who received the lidocaine ophthalmic drops. Analgesic onset was noted via a visual analog scale within 15 minutes after administration and persisted for a median of 36 hours (range, 8-96 h).[11]


Surgical Care

See the list below:

  • Dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) lesions have been used.
    • Efficacy - Improvement rate is 20% in long-term studies.
    • Complications - Gait disturbances are experienced by 12% of treated patients.
  • Miscellaneous treatment
Contributor Information and Disclosures

W Alvin McElveen, MD Director, Stroke Unit, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center; Neurologist, Manatee Memorial Hospital

W Alvin McElveen, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, Southern Clinical Neurological Society, American Stroke Association, American Medical Association, American Society of Neuroimaging

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Douglas Sinclair, DO Consulting Staff, Department of Neurology, Blake Medical Center and Bradenton Neurology, Inc

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

Robert A Egan, MD Director of Neuro-Ophthalmology and Stroke Service, St Helena Hospital

Robert A Egan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Heart Association, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, Oregon Medical Association

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Biogen Idec for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Teva for speaking and teaching.

Additional Contributors

Joseph Carcione, Jr, DO, MBA Consultant in Neurology and Medical Acupuncture, Medical Management and Organizational Consulting, Central Westchester Neuromuscular Care, PC; Medical Director, Oxford Health Plans

Joseph Carcione, Jr, DO, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Ralph F Gonzalez, MD Private Practice, Bradenton Neurology, Inc; Consulting Staff, Department of Neurology, Blake Hospital, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, Manatee Memorial Hospital

Ralph F Gonzalez, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology and Florida Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Hypopigmented rash in thoracic dermatome of postherpetic lesion.
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