Your kidney itch questions
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Why does kidney disease cause itching?
It’s probably linked to lots of changes that happen in your body when you have chronic kidney disease (CKD). There are four main theories at the moment.
- In response to CKD, your immune system may attack itself, causing inflammation in the skin that leads to itching.
- The nervous system may overreact, potentially also causing other symptoms, like restless legs and sleep problems, which are more common in people with CKD-aP.
- Some research has found signals sent to certain receptors in your nerve cells may get out of balance, resulting in itching.
- Toxins that end up in the skin and the tissues beneath because your kidneys can’t remove them may cause itching.
Some things can make itching worse, such as dry skin caused by loss of sweat glands in CKD, plus hot or cold temperatures, stress, physical activity and showering.
Does everyone with CKD get kidney itch?
It’s most common in people with advanced CKD and end-stage kidney disease.
Studies show around 20% of people with CKD suffer from it, rising to 40% of people with end-stage kidney disease. But the true number may be higher because some people don’t realise it’s a symptom that’s linked to CKD, so don’t tell their doctor about it. Doctors may also overlook it.
Sometimes, people may experience itching at an earlier stage of CKD but that’s not so common.
What part of the body itches because of CKD?
Up to half of people with it find it can affect their whole body, usually on both sides. But it may only affect one part of your body, typically your face, back or limbs.
The itching is worse at night, is that normal?
Yes – the itching tends to flare up most at night, so it can really disrupt your sleep. It’s common to have sleep problems and restless legs as a result of CKD, too, so all these issues can compound each other.
You may also notice your itching is worse at some other times, such as when the weather’s hot or you’re under stress.
Do all dialysis patients get kidney itching?
Itching is common in dialysis patients. It may come and go, or it could be more persistent – and it can happen before, during or after dialysis. Not all people having dialysis will experience it, though.
Nowadays, it’s thought around 40% of people on dialysis will get CKD-aP.
What helps with itching from CKD?
Talk to your healthcare team about the best ways to manage it.
A lot of people with kidney itching have dry skin, which makes itching more severe, so rehydrating your skin with a simple emollient cream can help to ease the itch. In fact, research suggests using an emollient daily can ease itching severity by 75% over several weeks.
There are a few other simple things you can do to help prevent skin dryness and irritation, including:
- wearing loose clothing made of natural fibres such as cotton
- switching to toiletries and cleaning products for sensitive skin
- using unscented shower and bath products
- showering or bathing in warm water, rather than very hot or cold
- patting yourself dry afterwards, not rubbing
- avoiding dry environments like air-conditioned rooms – you could think about using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home
The itching is unbearable. How can I stop it?
If itching is really severe, it’s important you talk to your healthcare team.
Over time, itching can be a very distressing symptom that really affects your quality of life, including your mental health, so don’t underestimate it.
There are medications proven to help if CKD-aP is severe and your healthcare team can talk to you about these.
Why does my skin feel different since I’ve been itching?
Some of the changes can be down to persistent scratching. Your skin may become either raw and tender, thickened and leathery, or firm with itchy bumps.
CKD itself can also cause skin changes, which may develop alongside the itching, including the dryness that can make itching worse, plus colour changes, swelling and rashes.