Medical Conditions That Cause Itchy Skin
Itchy skin, also known as pruritus, is more than just a nuisance. It can be a symptom of several medical conditions, some of them serious. When a persistent itch is not caused by bug bites, rough fabrics or allergic reactions to foods or medications, report it to your doctor. Physical examinations, laboratory tests and diagnostic tests can determine what is causing the itch, so it can be treated successfully.
Several skin conditions can cause the skin to itch. They include dermatitis, psoriasis, chickenpox, scabies, hives and lice. Itching may be accompanied by redness, bumps or scales, which can aid doctors in determining a definitive diagnosis. Light therapy, medications and wet dressings can relieve the itching associated with these skin conditions. Drugs to treat the underlying disorders can also be helpful in relieving itching and other symptoms.
The kidneys are responsible for filtering wastes from the blood. When kidney damage or kidney failure are present, the kidneys lose their ability to filter the blood efficiently and the waste products build up. This buildup of waste products causes the skin to itch, particularly on the legs. Creams and lotions may be used to treat itching caused by kidney failure, but treating the kidney failure itself is the best way to relieve itching. Kidney dialysis, which is the use of a machine to filter the blood, may be needed if kidney failure is severe and other treatments do not work.
According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 15 to 25 percent of people who have celiac disease are affected by dermatitis herpetiformis. This is an itchy rash that occurs on the knees, buttocks and elbows. This condition is diagnosed with laboratory tests and a skin biopsy. Rash symptoms can be treated with antibiotics and the condition can be prevented by maintaining a diet that is free of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
Iron-deficiency anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the body. This can be caused by poor diet, blood loss or an inability to absorb iron from foods. In addition to chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue, iron-deficiency anemia can cause persistent itching. Acute episodes of itching can be treated with topical medications. To stop the itching from recurring, the anemia must be treated. Someone with anemia may have to take iron supplements or eat more foods that are rich in iron.
Leukemia and lymphoma are types of cancers that can cause itchy skin. Leukemia is a cancer that affects the bone marrow or blood and interrupts the normal production of blood cells. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that fight infections. These cells circulate through the lymphatic system to destroy abnormal cells. Itchy skin caused by these cancers can be relieved with creams or lotions. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery can be used to treat the cancer and relieve symptoms for a longer period of time.
The thyroid gland is responsible for converting iodine into thyroid hormones known as thyroxine and triiodothyronine. When the thyroid gland is underactive, it does not produce enough of these hormones, which can result in several bothersome symptoms. One of these symptoms is a persistent itch. Hypothyroidism can be treated with oral medications such as Levothyroxine. Once hypothyroidism is controlled, the itch stops or is greatly reduced.
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