Why does liver disease cause intense itching? And what to do about it?
Patients with liver diseases often experience the problem of itchy skin. Also known as pruritus, itchy skin is a common symptom of various liver problems such as cirrhosis and hepatitis C. It mostly happens during the night and patients mainly experience the itching on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet. It is a very distressing condition as it can adversely affect patients’ quality of life. Patients might suffer from sleep deprivation and depression from all the itching sensations.
What causes itchy skin?
The factors contributing to itchy skin in liver disease patients are still not clearly understood. However, based on current studies, it could be due to the following reasons:
1) Bile products being deposited in the skin: Liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis C often cause blockage of bile ducts. In this case, bile salts could not be cleared as usual and they are accumulated under the skin, causing itch.
2) Increased level of endogenous opioids: Endogenous opioids are found to induce itch in humans, and patients with liver diseases usually have a high level of it.
3) Presence of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA): A correlation was found between itching and the presence of lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), a component that induces itch, in patients with liver disease and pruritus.
How to manage it?
There are various ways to manage the problem of itching for patients with liver diseases, but most of them are medications which show to have little benefits in controlling the problem. Some nonpharmacological ways to soothe the itch include skin moisturisers and avoidance of skin irritants and hot environments. More studies are needed to investigate the underlying causes of itchy skin, so that appropriate treatment can be given to patients to help them with their problem. However, it should be noted that the issue of itching for patients with liver diseases come from a malfunctioning liver. Aside from taking medications or engaging in other ways to soothe the itch, patients should also try to improve and restore their liver functions. Not only might it help with the issue, it will definitely bring a positive impact on managing other symptoms of liver diseases as well.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264975/ , (Access Date: 2018-08-14)
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22217242, (Access Date: 2018-08-14)
- National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377431/, (Access Date: 2018-08-14)
- * All research and clinical data should be used as reference purposes only, results may vary.