Itching is a common symptom of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Also called uremic pruritus, this distressing condition is more common in CKD stages 4 and 5. It is associated with a poor quality of life, sleep problems, and even depression. It is essential to identify the root cause of itching in kidney disease patients so that treatment can be targeted and effective. However, in many cases the root cause can be difficult to pinpoint.
Root Causes of Itching in Kidney Disease
Uremic toxin-induced neurologic changes
Several studies showed that patients with CKD have an imbalance of opioid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system. Interestingly, itching in CKD correlates better with the level of uremic toxins than with glomerular filtration rate (GFR, a measurement of how well the kidneys are working). These toxins play an important role in these neurologic changes that are common in CKD. Most of these toxins are generated by the gut microbiome and are excreted by the renal tubules and not by glomerular filtration (or GFR). Measuring these toxins can be helpful. This can be done by a metabolomic test such as Genova’s Metabolomix+.
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CKD is an inflammatory disorder. Elevated inflammatory markers have been found to be associated with itching in kidney disease. Measuring inflammatory markers such as hsCRP, Th-1 cells, and IL-6 can be helpful in the assessment of the root cause of itching in CKD.
Dehydration can also lead to dry skin and worsens itching in CKD patients. Correcting the dehydration can be important in the management of itching.
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Many medications that are used in CKD have been associated with itching. These include calcium channel blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, and ACE inhibitors. In addition, other medications such as opioids, anticoagulants, and antibiotics can cause itching.
The itch-scratch-itch cycle
One of the major problems with itching is that it leads to scratching, and this can cause skin damage. The latter can cause further itching and the cycle continues.
Natural Treatments for itching in kidney disease
There are many steps you can take to get rid of itching in kidney disease and a kidney disease rash. The first step is to visit a healthcare provider to help you determine the root cause. You can download this two-page handout to guide you in the natural treatment of itching. There is hope that you’ll relieve this frustrating problem and have comfortable skin once again.