Pruritus is among the most ubiquitous yet complex of symptoms. When experienced as an acute sensation, it is essentially a defence mechanism warning of the presence of substances (pruritogens) potentially damaging to the skin.1 An itch that lasts for more than six weeks is known as chronic pruritus, and frequently becomes troublesome and distressing for months or years.
Not surprisingly, long-term discomfort, pain, sleep disturbance, weight loss and stress adversely affect quality of life. Moreover, practitioners tend to underestimate the severity of the impact on quality of life for those affected.
Although pruritus occurs in a wide variety of systemic conditions, it is the most common symptom associated with dermatological conditions.2
The true prevalence and incidence of pruritus are difficult to measure. Reasons include its association with a plethora of conditions, the subjective nature of the symptom and frequent under-reporting by those affected. Nevertheless, some progress in identifying epidemiological trends is being made.