NHS Choices: Liver Disease
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The liver is the body’s largest organ. It breaks down fats, detoxifies the body, produces cholesterol and proteins, and stores vitamins. When a person lives a life of excess regarding the wrong types of food and alcohol abuse, the risk of fatty liver disease increases. Experiencing itchy skin could be an indication of your risk of the dangerous condition.
Itching (medically known as pruritus) is one symptom of chronic liver disease, though not everyone with liver disease develops it.
Itching may be a localised itch, such as on the lower arm, or it might be an all-over itch.
A little itch now and then is no cause for concern.
However, continual itching can interfere with one’s sleep and lead to a host of other problems.
In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, pruritus in chronic liver disease was further analysed.
The study noted: “Pruritus is a symptom found in patients with chronic liver diseases, especially cholestatic liver diseases such as primary biliary cholangitis.
“This symptom impairs patient quality of life by disturbing sleep and may lead to consideration of liver transplantation.
“Although pruritus may not be directly associated with the prognosis or outcome of liver diseases, a recent systematic review showed that pruritus has an impact on health-related quality of life in patients with cholestatic liver diseases.
“Pruritus may be an indication for liver transplantation even in the absence of liver failure.
“Current treatments for cholestatic pruritus are inadequate, and additional, more effective therapeutic options are required.”
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Pruritus is rare in alcohol-related liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
It’s most commonly associated with:
Primary biliary cirrhosis which is a type of liver disease that can get gradually worse over time.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a rare disease that attacks the bile ducts
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is a potentially serious liver disorder that can develop in pregnancy.
Some studies have been done, but scientists have yet to identify a single substance responsible for itching in liver disease.
Itching associated with liver disease tends to be worse in the late evening and during the night, said Healthline.
The health site continued: “Some people may itch in one area, such as a limb, the soles of their feet, or the palms of their hands, while others experience an all-over itch.
“Itching linked to liver disease doesn’t generally involve rash or skin lesions.
“However, you can develop visible irritation, redness, and infection due to excessive scratching.”
It is difficult to determine the immediate cause of itching, but there are many self-care treatments and precautionary measures that can help.
For instance, people may be able to minimize the symptoms by:
- Moisturising the skin
- Taking cool baths
- Applying a cold, wet cloth to affected areas of skin
- Staying out of the heat
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing
- Avoiding scratching where possible.
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