Chronically itchy skin has now been linked to mental issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Itchy skin is a widespread symptom in patients suffering from skin diseases, and a new cross-sectional study is now showing the psychological burden that it can take on those suffering from the condition.
The study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology reported that the presence of itch in dermatological patients was significantly associated with clinical depression, suicidal ideation, and stress. Chronically itchy skin is associated with several skin diseases such as hand eczema, psoriasis, nodular prurigo, and hidradenitis suppurativa.
“There are already studies showing evidence of a correlation between itch and mental health problems in general, and in specific skin disorders, but there is a lack of a cross-sectional study across chronic skin diseases,” explained lead investigator Florence J. Dalgard.
For this study, researchers collected data from dermatologists in 13 European countries. It included 3,530 patients with skin diseases that were compared with more than 1,000 healthy controls. As part of the study, patients were required to complete questionnaires and were also examined clinically. Researchers measured the presence, chronicity, and intensity of itch, sociodemographic, suicidal ideation, and stress, including adverse life events and economic difficulties.
Chronic itch in the dermatological conditions was present in nearly 90 percent of patients who had prurigo and related conditions, 86 percent in atopic dermatitis, 82 percent in hand eczema, 78 percent in other eczema, 76 percent in urticarial, and 7 percent in psoriasis.
The study showed that the prevalence of depression was 14 percent in patients with itch compared to 5.7 percent in patients without itch. Suicidal thoughts were recorded in 15.7 percent of patients with itch, nine percent in patients without itch, 18.6 percent in controls with itch, and 8.6 percent in controls without itch. The study also noted that the occurrence of stressful life events was higher in individuals with itch than those without itch. Patients with itch were also more likely to experience more economic problems.
Dr. Dalgard explained, “Our research shows that itch has a high impact on quality of life. This study illustrates the burden of the symptom of itch and its multidimensional aspect. The management of patients with itch should involve access to a multidisciplinary team when necessary, as is already the case in several European countries.”
The conclusion of the study also recommended preventative measures such as psoriasis education programs or targeted web-based information. Routine care should be taken including topical creams to soothe chronic itch, and health care professionals should also help patients find the source of the skin disease. On many occasions, patients have found relief by changing lifestyle habits or diet.