Intense itchy skin all over the body often occurs in people with late-stage kidney disease or those who suffer from chronic renal failure. In fact, 42 per cent of dialysis patients suffered from moderate to extreme itchiness, according to a study published in Renal Failure. “Some people describe it as a nuisance,” says dermatologist, Dr Anthony M. Rossi. “[The itch] is so intense that people wake up in the middle of the night scratching.” Science has yet to uncover why kidney disease causes itchiness, but doctors suspect it has to do with the build-up of toxins in your body when your kidneys are unable to remove the waste from your bloodstream.
Itchy skin all over could also be a silent sign of liver disease. Where incessant itchiness shows up late-stage in kidney disease, it can be an early symptom of liver disease. “If your liver is not functioning properly to detoxify the body, byproducts like bile acids back up,” says Dr Kathleen Cook Suozzi, assistant professor in the department of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. “The primary goal is to treat the underlying liver disease and prescribe medications that can eliminate bile acids.” Doctors will typically prescribe medications that can inhibit your body’s uptake of bile acids or help reduce the amount of bile acid returning to the liver.
If after lightly scratching your skin, your fingernails leave thin, raised red welts on your skin that take 15 to 30 minutes to disappear, you may suspect dermatographia or dermatographism, a form of chronic hives. “It’s an extreme skin condition, where your skin is sensitive to touch and releases too much histamine,” says dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, Dr Cameron Rokhsar. Although the cause of this condition is unclear, it may be triggered by stress, infections, allergens, or medications, he says, adding that areas commonly touched by other skin or clothing are the most susceptible to dermatographic flare-ups. It’s easy to diagnose but often goes undiagnosed because it’s not severe or bothersome enough for people to make an appointment with their dermatologist. If the itch becomes severe, your doctor can prescribe an antihistamine to relieve the inflammation, he says. For patients with severe hives who don’t get better with antihistamines, omalizumab injections in a doctor’s office may provide relief.