Certain serious conditions, autoimmune conditions, and liver or kidney issues can cause itchy skin. Treating the underlying cause may relieve the itchiness and other symptoms related to the condition.
Doctors call itchy skin pruritus. The itchy skin may be due to mild allergies, reactions, or insect bites. However, serious conditions can also cause itching skin, so it is best that a person contacts a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and advice on treatments.
This article explains which serious conditions can cause itchy skin and what other related symptoms they may include. It also discusses other causes of itchy skin, diagnosis, treatments, and more.
Some serious health conditions may have symptoms of itchy skin.
Chronic liver disease
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises that, when itching is a sign of liver disease, the itch often starts on the palms and soles and spreads to other parts of the body.
Chronic kidney disease
According to Kidney Care UK, around half of people with advanced kidney disease experience itchy skin. It also affects most people who receive dialysis.
- atopic dermatitis
- autoimmune bullous diseases
- dermatitis herpetiformis (Duhring’s disease)
- connective tissue diseases such as lupus erythematosus and Sjögren’s syndrome
Itchy skin may be a symptom of thyroid disease. Thyroid disease refers to problems with the way the neck’s thyroid gland works.
Other symptoms of thyroid disease can vary from person to person, but they typically affect the hair, skin, and nails.
Type 2 diabetes
Itching can be a symptom of type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that it may be present in around
It may happen due to poor blood glucose control. The itch may be moderate or severe and commonly occurs in the following places:
People describe the itching as:
The AAD states that, when a nerve isn’t working correctly, it can cause itchy skin. Itchy skin may also develop if there’s damage along a nerve due to a medical condition or an injury.
This type of itch tends to occur in one place on the body and will often not present with a rash, except in the case of shingles, where a rash may develop after the initial itching.
Itching is an
Following this, a blister-like rash of sores may develop, usually on one side of the body. It most often develops on the torso and the face.
Someone may also have other symptoms such as:
According to a
- liver cancer
- gallbladder cancer
- cancer of the biliary tract
- cancer of the hematopoietic system
- skin cancer
The authors note that most people with pruritus and malignancy diagnoses had no skin eruption. Some types of cancer, such as liver cancer and biliary cancer, are likely to cause itching due to slower bile flow, and doctors would not expect to see a skin eruption.
In contrast, leukemia may have a higher rate of skin eruption, indicating an inflammatory reaction in the skin.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. It is a medical emergency.
Anaphylaxis can cause itchy skin and a range of other symptoms. There are numerous possible triggers for anaphylaxis.
Examples of common triggers include:
- foods such as peanuts, milk, and seafood
- insect stings, such as a bee or wasp sting
- certain medications such as antibiotics
Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and what to do
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:
- swelling of the face or mouth
- fast, shallow breathing
- a fast heart rate
- clammy skin
- anxiety or confusion
- blue or white lips
- fainting or loss of consciousness
If someone has these symptoms:
- Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
- Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
- Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
- Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.
Other than the more serious conditions already mentioned, there are many reasons that someone may have itchy skin.
Skin conditions that can cause itchy skin include:
- very dry skin
- atopic dermatitis or eczema
- dyshidrotic eczema
- seborrheic dermatitis
- hand, foot, and mouth disease
Examples of other possible causes include:
It is best for a person to contact a doctor for an accurate diagnosis if they have persistent, recurrent, or severely itchy skin.
Other symptoms that may accompany itchy skin largely depend on the cause of the itching.
However, the skin may be inflamed or have lesions, and it may bleed if someone scratches a lot.
In addition, long-standing itching may affect some quality of life, disrupting their sleep and making it difficult to concentrate.
It is best for a person to let a doctor know about any other symptoms they are experiencing alongside itchy skin. This can help the doctor to reach an accurate diagnosis and advise on the most appropriate treatment plan.
A person may consider contacting a doctor if they have frequent or persistently itchy skin. It is also best to contact a doctor if other symptoms occur alongside itchy skin or if itching affects quality of life.
The doctor may refer the individual to a board certified dermatologist for a diagnosis.
Treatments can depend on the underlying cause of itchy skin. Doctors may recommend topical treatments such as creams and gels to relieve itching skin.
In severe conditions such as CKD, doctors
To assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis, a doctor may begin by taking a full medical history, asking questions about symptoms, and performing a physical examination.
In some cases, a doctor may also refer a person to a dermatologist for a diagnosis.
Here are some more frequently asked questions about itchy skin.
How might a person know their hives are autoimmune?
Hives may result from an autoimmune condition if they are chronic, meaning they last more than 6 weeks. A
What does an autoimmune rash look like?
A rash associated with an autoimmune condition may be inflamed, scaly, blistered, and itchy. However, the appearance of the rash can vary depending on its underlying cause.
Why is a person developing hives every day?
Chronic hives can develop for a number of reasons, including autoimmune conditions, some bacterial and viral infections, allergies, and physical stimuli, such as cold weather or exercise.
Learn more about why a person might develop hives that come and go daily.
What viral illnesses cause hives?
Chronic hives can develop as a result of the
- hepatitis viruses
- parvovirus B19
When should I be worried about itchy skin?
If itchy skin is severe or intense, or if it persists, it is best to contact a doctor for advice. While the cause may not be serious, it is best to receive an accurate diagnosis to ensure the correct treatment.
What part of the body itches with liver problems?
Itching due to liver problems tends to start on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It may then spread to other body parts.
Why am I so itchy but have no rash?
There are numerous possible causes of itchy skin without a rash. For example, nerve problems can cause itchiness without any visible rash. A doctor will be able to determine the cause of the itching.
There are many possible causes of itchy skin. Serious conditions such as liver disease, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune conditions can cause itchy skin.
Related symptoms can help a doctor to reach an accurate diagnosis. They may also order tests such as a blood test or skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis or rule out the possible causes.
It is best for a person to contact a doctor if they experience severe, persistent, or frequently itchy skin.