Predicting postherpetic neuralgia in elderly primary care patients with herpes zoster: prospective prognostic study

Pain. 2007 Nov;132 Suppl 1:S52-S59. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.02.004. Epub 2007 Mar 26.


Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is the most frequent complication of herpes zoster (HZ) and difficult to treat. Timely identification of high-risk HZ-patients enables physicians to focus on PHN prevention. To assess which simple to measure factors are independent predictors of PHN, and whether psychosocial and serological/virological parameters have additional predictive value, a prospective cohort study in primary care was conducted. We included 598 elderly (>50 years) consecutive patients with acute HZ (rash <7 days) below sixth cervical dermatome. At baseline demographic, clinical (e.g., duration and severity of pain and rash), psychological (Pain Cognition List [PCL] and Spielberger's Anxiety Inventory), serological (VZV-antibodies) and virological (viremia presence) variables were measured. Blood tests were performed in a random subset of 218 patients. Primary outcome was significant pain (VAS >30 on 0-100 scale) after three months. The final prediction model obtained from multivariable logistic regression was (internally) validated using bootstrapping techniques, and adjusted for optimism. Forty-six (7.7%) patients developed PHN. Independent predictors were age (odds ratio [OR]=1.08 per year), acute pain severity (OR=1.02 per unit), presence of severe rash (OR=2.31), and rash duration before consultation (OR=0.78 per day): area under receiver-operating-characteristic curve [ROC area]=0.77 (95% CI: 0.71-0.82). Of the five PCL scores, only factor V ('trust in healthcare') was an additional predictor (OR=1.01 per unit), though it increased the ROC area with only 0.01 to 0.78. The Spielberger's anxiety scores and serological and virological variables were no additional predictors. Thus, four simple variables can help physicians to timely identify elderly HZ-patients at risk of PHN.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Exanthema / diagnosis
  • Exanthema / virology
  • Female
  • Herpes Zoster / complications*
  • Herpes Zoster / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / diagnosis*
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / psychology
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / virology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / psychology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Viral Load


  • Antibodies, Viral