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The effect of itch on mental health

A recent study investigated the effect of itch on mental health, reporting that patients with itch experience increased mental health issues.

Itch is a significant symptom experienced by patients suffering from dermatological conditions such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, to name a few. Depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety have previously been reported to coincide with the presence of severe skin diseases. This has been suggested to be due to skin inflammation causing alterations in neural peptides such as serotonin in the brain; the nerve endings in the skin becoming activated and causing alterations with brain neurochemistry and signalling.

Recently published by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, a multi-center study conducted at multiple dermatological clinics, in 13 European countries, looked at the association between individuals with itch and the prevalence of mental health issues. This questionnaire-based study included 3,530 patients with dermatological conditions and compared them with a group of 1,094 individuals who did not have itch or a dermatological condition. The questionnaire was based on multiple factors: itch (presence, chronicity, and intensity), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, suicidal ideation, stress (related to negative life events and economic difficulties), and socio-demographics. In addition to this, the EQ-5D visual analogue scale (0- 100) was completed, which quantifies generic health status and overall quality of life in five dimensions: mobility, self-care, usual activities, pain/discomfort, and anxiety/depression.

The results of the study showed that patients with itch experienced a greater prevalence of depression (14.1%), anxiety (21.4%), and suicidal ideation (15.7%). These values are staggering when compared to participants without itch: depression (3.2%), anxiety (8.8%), and suicidal ideation (8.6%). Patients with itch reported more negative life events and economic difficulties than patients without the presence of itch. These results suggest a similar burden of disease to patients with other chronic diseases such as diabetes.

These findings suggest that the prevalence of mental health issues found in patients with skin diseases are associated with itch and has a significant effect on quality of life.

 

Written by P. Sukumar

 

Reference(s):

  1. Dalgard, FJ., et al. (2019). Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Itch and Mental Health in Dermatological Patients across Europe: A Cross-Sectional Study in 13 Countries.
  2. Monturano, T. (2019). Eurekalert!. Increased depression, suicidal thoughts and stress are reported in patients with chronically itchy skin.
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