Talking to your doctor about kidney itching

Itching can be an extremely debilitating symptom of chronic kidney disease, so it’s important to take it seriously, find a way to talk about it and get the support you need. This guide will help you talk to your kidney team and discuss potential options to consider

Many people struggling with itching don’t mention it to their healthcare team. There can be a lot to discuss in appointments, so itching can fall to the bottom of the list – and healthcare professionals may not always ask about it.

We've put together a guide to help you discuss itching with healthcare professionals, whether that’s your GP, your dialysis nurse or your nephrologist.

This patient information resource has been made possible with a financial contribution from CSL Vifor. CSL Vifor has had no editorial input into or control over the content, which has been independently owned and created by Kidney Care UK.

Before your appointment – make a list of questions

  • To make the most of appointments, it’s a good idea to have a list of questions prepared so you don’t forget anything you want to ask about.
  • It may be helpful to read our information about kidney itching first, as this might prompt you to think of things to ask.
  • You could ask a loved one for their input – other people may think of things that haven’t occurred to you.
  • Put your questions in order of priority. There isn’t always time to ask everything in appointments, so prioritising means you’ll cover the most important areas.

Kidney itch questions you may want to ask your clinician:

  • What can I do myself to ease itching?
  • What sort of moisturiser do you recommend?
  • Do you suggest changing products (such as laundry products and skincare)?
  • How will we know if it’s time to try medication?

Before your appointment – keep a diary

When you want to discuss a specific symptom, especially one that can come and go, it can be helpful to track it so you and your healthcare professional can get a clear picture of how it’s affecting you.

Having a record is usually more accurate than just thinking back and trying to remember in an appointment.

You could keep a note of:

  • when you experience itching
  • how long it lasts
  • what parts of your body it affects
  • anything you try to ease it
  • how it affects you (for example, your sleep and mood)
  • how severe it is, scoring it out of 10, with 0 = no itch and 10 = the worst imaginable itch.

If you haven’t kept a diary, you could think about this question before an appointment instead, so your doctor understands how much itching is affecting you:

During the past 4 weeks, to what extent have I been bothered by itchy skin?

  1. not at all bothered
  2. somewhat bothered
  3. moderately bothered
  4. very much bothered
  5. extremely bothered.

Before your appointment – prepare

If you feel nervous in appointments, find it difficult to talk to doctors or need support for other reasons (for example, if you’re hearing-impaired), having someone with you can make a big difference. Think about whether you’d like some support, and who you could ask to attend the appointment with you.

Allow time before the appointment to make sure you have everything you need, including your list of questions and a pen and notepad.

In the appointment – be clear about what you want to ask

  • At the start of the appointment, you could tell the healthcare professional that itching has been troublesome and you would like to talk about that today, so they know it’s important to cover that even if there are other things to discuss.
  • If you have a list of questions, tell your doctor or nurse – it’s likely they’ll be pleased you’ve been proactive. Tick the questions off as you get answers – you can save the less urgent questions for next time.
  • If you’ve kept a symptom diary, offer to share it with them.

In the appointment – take notes

It’s not always easy to take in everything that’s discussed at the appointment, so you may find it useful to keep notes.

If you have someone with you, you could ask them to take notes so you can focus on the conversation.

In the appointment – make sure you understand

Sometimes, doctors may use clinical language, talk quickly or give you a lot of information at the same time. That can make it hard to follow everything they’re saying. But it’s important you’re clear about what you’re being told. Your healthcare team will want you to be confident you understand, so they should be happy to go over it.

If you’re unsure about something they’ve said, you could repeat it in your own words so they can correct you if you haven’t got it quite right. For example, you could say: “Can I check I’m clear about what you’ve just said? I think you said xxx.”

If you haven’t understood at all, ask them to explain it again in different words so it's clearer for you.

Kidney itching: what to do if you’re not getting the help you need

Kidney itching isn’t straightforward to diagnose and treat.

Itching can have lots of potential causes, including skin conditions, so a GP may not immediately make the connection or suggest the right treatment for itching caused by chronic kidney disease (CKD). Even seeing a specialist isn’t a guarantee. Doctors still don’t fully understand the underlying causes of kidney itching, and some may underestimate the severity and the impact it has on your life.

If you feel a healthcare professional hasn’t taken it seriously, or treatment they’ve suggested isn’t helping, you could ask for another appointment to discuss it, or talk to another member of your healthcare team. It’s worth persevering.

Try the other tips here to help if you haven’t already – keeping a diary can help your healthcare team see clearly how itching is affecting you, for example.

Man itching his neck