Shingles During Pregnancy – Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

5 min read

Written by Suma rp

Suma rp

shingles during pregnancy

During pregnancy, women experience numerous physical changes, and their immune systems may undergo certain alterations as well. Shingles, a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, can occasionally affect pregnant women. This condition is characterized by a painful rash that typically appears on one side of the body. While shingles during pregnancy are relatively rare, they can pose potential risks to both the mother and the developing fetus.

Recognizing the symptoms and obtaining an accurate diagnosis is crucial for timely treatment and management of this condition. Keep reading to know more about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of shingles during pregnancy. 

In This Article

What Are Shingles?

Shingles also known as Herpes zoster is a contagious viral infection that results in an uncomfortable rash. The varicella-zoster virus, which additionally triggers chickenpox, is responsible for its growth. The chickenpox virus stays latent (inactive) in the body even after a person heals. The virus can, however, occasionally re-emerge later in life and result in shingles.

A rash that often takes the form of a band or strip of blisters on one side of the body is the primary sign of shingles. There may be discomfort, itchiness, or tingling along with the rash. Fever, headaches, and exhaustion are possible additional symptoms.

Shingles can be contagious, but it is crucial to understand that shingles cannot be transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Instead, the virus is spread by coming into contact with someone who has shingles and blister fluid. It most frequently affects elderly individuals and those with weaker immune systems.

Causes of Shingles During Pregnancy

pregnant woman sitting on bed

Shingles are caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus responsible for chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissues near the spinal cord and brain.

Factors that can trigger the reactivation of the virus and lead to shingles include

  • A weakened immune system
  • Stress
  • Illness
  • Certain medications

Doctors do not know the exact reason for the reactivation of the virus, but it is believed that a decline in immunity allows the virus to become active again and travel along the nerves, resulting in the characteristic rash and symptoms of shingles. 

[Read : Chicken Pox During Pregnancy]

Symptoms of Shingles During Pregnancy

red rash on body

The shingles symptoms that pregnant women experience are the same as those that non-pregnant people encounter. At first, pregnant women with shingles could experience

  • Itchiness
  • Tingling in a particular body part
  • A red, blistering rash that primarily affects one portion of the body then frequently follows
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion

However, during pregnancy, the developing fetus is also a matter of worry in addition to the mother. If the rash develops near the abdomen, there is a chance of problems such as fetal varicella syndrome, which can cause defects in babies. As a result, it’s important for pregnant women who exhibit any shingles symptoms to consult a doctor right away so that they can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Diagnosis For Shingles During Pregnancy

Diagnosing shingles in pregnancy typically involves a combination of a physical examination and a medical history review. The healthcare provider will examine the characteristic rash and consider the symptoms reported by the pregnant woman. The doctor may prescribe specific tests to confirm the condition and determine the severity of the infection due to the potential hazards associated with having shingles while pregnant.

Doctors may prefer performing

  • A viral culture test
  • A PCR test
  • An antibody test

In some cases, the doctor may also consult with a specialist, such as a dermatologist or an infectious disease specialist, to ensure an accurate diagnosis. It is important for pregnant women who suspect they have shingles to consult their healthcare provider promptly for proper evaluation and appropriate management.

Treatment Options For Shingles During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when doctors will be vigilant about the medications they prescribe to the mother. Keeping the well-being of both the mother and the baby in mind, doctors may prefer prescribing pregnancy-safe medicines, painkillers, and supportive treatment are used in the treatment of shingles. Topical creams or ointments containing numbing agents or antiviral agents may also provide symptomatic relief.

Additionally, keeping the affected area clean and dry, using cool compresses, and wearing loose-fitting clothing can help alleviate discomfort. It is important for individuals with shingles to follow their healthcare provider’s recommendations and seek prompt medical attention for appropriate treatment.

Preventive Measures For Shingles During Pregnancy

pregnant woman vaccination

Yes, vaccinations can avoid shingles or lessen their symptoms. For pregnant women who aren’t chickenpox-immune, the shingles vaccine is advised. The varicella-zoster vaccination assists in enhancing the body’s immune response to the virus, lowering the likelihood of acquiring shingles or having serious side effects.

Additionally, it’s necessary to maintain a strong immune system with a balanced diet, consistent exercise, stress reduction, and enough sleep. Reduced risk of capturing the virus can also be achieved by preventing close contact with those who are suffering from active shingles. For specific guidance on shingles prevention, it is preferable to speak with a healthcare expert.

[Read : Healthy Diet During Pregnancy]

Complications of Shingles During Pregnancy

Pregnancy-related shingles can result in a number of potential problems. Here are a few complications one can expect when affected by shingles during pregnancy.

  • Fetal varicella syndrome (FVS) can occur if the virus damages a developing fetus
  • Birth defects brought on by FVS include skin scarring, anomalies of the eyes, limb deformities, and neurological problems.
  • The period of the infection while pregnant affects the severity of FVS
  • Shingles also raise the chance of stillbirth, miscarriage, and premature childbirth
  • In some cases, the infection can also spread to other organs, leading to pneumonia or encephalitis

Prompt medical evaluation and appropriate management are crucial to minimize the risks and potential complications associated with shingles during pregnancy.

[Read : What is Premature Delivery]

When Should You Consider Seeing a Doctor?

It’s crucial to consult a doctor right away if you think you could have shingles while pregnant. If you get a rash that is itchy or tingly, painful and develops in a band or strip on a particular side of your body, you should consult a doctor. Furthermore, even if you have no visible symptoms, it is advised to see a doctor if you have been in contact with someone who has shingles. You and your growing baby may need to take preventative steps.

Shingles during pregnancy can be a concerning condition due to potential risks to both the mother and the developing fetus. Recognizing the causes, and symptoms, and obtaining a proper diagnosis is crucial for timely treatment. Seeking medical attention promptly can help manage the infection and minimize complications, ensuring the well-being of both mother and baby.


1. Can Shingles During Pregnancy Cause Birth Defects in Babies?

Shingles itself does not directly cause birth defects. However, if a pregnant woman develops shingles, there is a risk of fetal varicella syndrome (FVS) which can lead to birth defects.

2. Can Shingles Be Passed From Mother to a Baby After Birth?

Shingles itself cannot be directly passed from a mother to her baby. However, if a pregnant woman develops shingles, there is a risk of the baby contracting the varicella-zoster virus causing chickenpox after birth.

3. How Long Do Shingles Last?

Shingles typically last for 2 to 4 weeks. The duration of the infection can vary depending on individual factors such as the person’s immune system, the severity of the rash, and the effectiveness of treatment.

Read Also: Itchy Skin During Pregnancy: Treatment for Fast Relief

Suma rp,M.Sc (Organic Chemistry) Rayalaseema University B.Sc (Biotechnology) Sri Krishna Devaraya University.

Suma is a passionate content writer with a strong keenness to understand the miracle of pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Suma has successfully transitioned into a full-time content writer and a key contributor at Being The Parent. She leverages on her experimental background in chemistry and experience in writing to come up with well-researched content that helps parents struggling to deal with various medical conditions of their children.Read more.

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