In an Instagram post, the former Bachelorette revealed she was diagnosed with shingles. She wrote, “Welp—I have shingles—at 36 years old.”
The “welp” is no doubt because Fedotowsky felt about her shingles diagnosis the way I felt about my shingles diagnosis at the tender age of 29. A dose of disbelief to start—shingles is an older folks’ disease, typically affecting the 50 and up crowd—and a hefty amount of embarrassment threaded with a general sense that my body had somehow intimately betrayed me. Because, again, shingles is an older folks’ disease.
Turns out, that’s not actually the case. Fedotowsky’s Instagram post was met with a number of messages from other young people who’d also had shingles. She decided to keep sharing “because early detection is key in hopefully lessening the severity and duration of shingles.”
Shingles Is Caused By The Same Virus That Causes Chicken Pox
The virus that causes chicken pox is the same virus that causes shingles. It lies dormant in your system until it doesn’t—and then causes shingles.
Shingles typically presents as a red, painful rash on one side of your body. It’s most commonly found either above one eye (as in Fedotowsky’s case), the stomach, chest, or back. The rash is often accompanied by slight fever, headache, fatigue, and a feeling of being unwell.
But mostly, the defining characteristic of shingles is the pain, which Fedotowsky described as “electricity underneath my skin.” Accurate. It feels like a fireworks show along your nerves.
In a follow up post, Fedotowsky shared more about her shingles journey. She wrote, “It’s pure agony… with mine being on my face and scalp it’s just shooting pain through my brain.”
Stress Is A Factor
Shingles seems to be on the rise among younger people. A 2016 study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that the rate of shingles has been climbing among all age groups for at least the past sixty years. It’s more than “quadrupled,” in Americans younger than fifty, and that may be getting worse, according to some research.
Why? We don’t know for sure. But stress may be a factor, according to Wilbur Chen, MD, an associate professor of medicine and infectious disease physician at the University of Maryland. In an article for Medium, he confirmed that, “Shingles can happen among healthy young adults with no other underlying diseases and who are otherwise athletic, and sometimes we think it might be stress-induced.”
Fedotowsky noted that one of the reasons she kept her diagnosis a secret initially is because she didn’t want the stress of the Internet weighing in while she was trying to heal. She wrote, “In fact, stress is likely the reason I got #shingles.”
My doctor blamed stress for my shingles diagnosis, too. At the time, I was caring for a premature baby who wouldn’t eat or sleep. Functioning in a state of high stress was my normal.
While stress is a factor, it’s likely not the only factor. A variety of other theories have been posited and rejected, and the only thing researchers know for sure is that they’ll “keep looking.”
Seek Treatment Right Away
There’s a common misconception that shingles will go away on its own. That’s not true. “[A] shingles rash should alert people, especially in middle or old age, to seek immediate medical help,” says Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, director of the Nerve Unit at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
Early detection and early treatment with an antiviral drug can shorten the duration and severity of shingles, and reduce the risk of serious damage—including the risk of long term pain, ongoing itch, damage to hearing and vision, and stroke or heart attack.
The long-term pain, called postherpetic neuralgia, is a “chronic, often debilitating pain condition” that occurs in 10-18 percent of people and can last for months or years, according to the CDC.
Fedotowsky said she decided to contact her doctor as soon as she felt something strange. Her doctor quickly diagnosed her and got her on medication before the rash fully developed on her face.
“I am soooo grateful that she diagnosed me early and got me on the proper medication,” she wrote. “So early that it was a day before I even had a tiny little pimple-like spot on my face which I wouldn’t have thought twice about (see 3rd pic) and days before I had multiple spots that ended up causing swelling and blurred vision in my eye.”
There’s A Vaccine
The CDC recommends that most people over the age of 60 receive the shingles vaccine, whether or not they had chicken pox as a kid, according to Dr. Oaklander. She confirms, “It reduces the risk of getting shingles by about half, and shingles rashes that still develop are slightly less likely to cause postherpetic pain, or other serious complications.”
Fedotowsky shared her story in order to help others who, like her didn’t realize shingles could affect someone her age. Though she’s taking the time to “rest and focus on her health,” she’s also encouraging others to share their stories to drive not only awareness, but support for each other.