What causes an itchy stomach?
In this article, we discuss the reasons why the stomach might get itchy and suggest treatments that can help to reduce the itchiness.
An itchy stomach may be caused by a skin condition, such as eczema.
Most of the causes associated with stomach itching are not severe. However, they can still be concerning and uncomfortable for someone.
Examples of conditions that can cause stomach itching include:
This condition occurs when the skin comes into contact with something that causes it to be irritated. Common irritants include:
- metals, such as belly button piercings
- beauty products
- cleaning products
- laundry detergent and associated products
The result can be very dry, itchy skin on the stomach and other areas that are exposed to the irritant.
A person may experience contact dermatitis from using new kinds of soaps on their skin, or even exposure to water that is too hot.
While contact dermatitis is a type of eczema, there are other forms of eczema that affect the stomach and cause the skin to itch.
Eczema results in dry, scaling skin that is often very itchy. Sometimes a person may even experience swelling, raised areas, or dark-colored skin patches.
Sometimes an infection caused by bacteria or organisms, including scabies or lice, can lead to an itchy stomach.
In these instances, a person usually experiences the itching sensation at night.
Bedbugs or fleas
Small, itchy red bumps on the stomach and other parts of the body can indicate that a person has bedbugs or fleas in their house.
If the bites appear in a zigzag pattern and occur at night, bedbugs are a possible reason.
If a person has begun taking a new medication, they may start to experience stomach itching and a red rash.
This type of rash will often appear on the stomach and back first.
A person should call their doctor if they think they are experiencing a negative reaction to a new medication.
Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition that causes an immune system response. Most types of psoriasis cause areas of scaly skin, redness, and itching.
The condition most commonly appears around the knees, elbows, and scalp. However, psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body, including the stomach.
When the areas of skin rub together, they are more likely to become damp and irritated. Psoriasis on the stomach may be more likely when there are folds of skin that are in contact with each other.
Itchy stomach and pregnancy
It is common for the stomach to become itchy during pregnancy.
An itching stomach is a common experience during pregnancy. There are several reasons for this, including:
- itching as the belly expands to accommodate the growing baby
- raised levels of certain chemicals, including hormones, in the blood
- PUPPP rash, which stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy
- a liver condition known as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, or ICP, also called obstetric cholestasis or OC.
ICP occurs when there is a buildup of bile in the body. This is a potentially serious condition, as it can increase the likelihood of stillbirth.
ICP affects around 1 in 140 pregnant women.
Symptoms usually develop after 30 weeks of pregnancy, but they may also occur as early as 8 weeks.
Other symptoms of ICP include:
- itching hands and feet
- very severe itching
- dark urine
- pale bowel movements
- yellow skin, otherwise known as jaundice
- onset after 30 weeks of pregnancy but also as early as 8 weeks
If this condition is suspected, it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor may recommend inducing birth after 37 weeks of pregnancy or earlier to protect the baby.
While it is often tempting to scratch an itchy stomach, this is likely to make the itching worse.
The following treatments for relieving itchy skin are recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology:
- Wearing loose clothes to prevent the fabric rubbing against the skin.
- Wearing natural fabrics, such as cotton, to allow air to circulate on the stomach.
- Applying a cool, moist cloth to the stomach when itching occurs. Hold it to the skin for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Using a fragrance-free moisturizer after a bath, or anytime the skin feels especially dry. Placing the moisturizer in the freezer first can make this more effective.
- Taking a bath in oatmeal. This method is recommended particularly for itching caused by rashes, blisters, and sunburn.
Some people may find relief from itching by applying corticosteroids creams or taking oral corticosteroids. Oral antihistamines can also reduce scratching. However, these treatments are usually intended for short-term use only.
Moisturizing the skin regularly may help to prevent an itchy stomach. Avoid perfumed products.
Some of the steps a person can take to prevent stomach itching include:
- avoiding perfumed or harsh soaps, as these can dry out the skin
- wearing loose, breathable clothing that does not sit too tightly against the skin
- taking a shower or bath for no more than 10 minutes, using lukewarm water
- keeping moisturizers easily accessible in a person's home or office to apply to the skin when itching occurs
A person can also talk to their doctor about additional measures that may reduce their symptoms, depending on the cause of the itching.
When to see a doctor
If over-the-counter treatments do not work, or if the cause is not known, a person may wish to see a doctor or dermatologist.
Other signs that a person should see a doctor include:
- itching that keeps a person from sleeping at night
- itching that spreads beyond the stomach
- symptoms that are accompanied by other signs, such as weight loss, urinary or bowel incontinence, or skin redness
If at any time a person starts having difficulty breathing in addition to their stomach itching, they should call 911 and seek emergency medical attention.
If a person's stomach itching interferes with their daily life and sleeping, they should always seek medical attention. Through over-the-counter and prescription treatments, a person can usually find relief from their symptoms.