Chronic itch could mean high risks of sleep loss and heart disease

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Many people suffer from a skin disorder known as chronic pruritic dermatosis, commonly referred to as “chronic itch.”

In a recent study at Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers found new evidence of the connection between chronic itch and sleep problems.

They also found that people with chronic itch may be at a higher risk for heart disease as indicated by elevated levels of a circulating protein sometimes used to predict heart problems.

The study is published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology. One author is Shawn Kwatra, M.D., an assistant professor of dermatology.

Chronic itch has been linked to multiple sleep disturbances, including repeated nighttime and early morning awakenings.

The resulting loss of quality slumber may lead to fatigue, anxiety, and even depression, all of which have lasting and negative overall health impacts.

In the study, the team examined 5,560 U.S. adults. Participants were surveyed for their current social and demographic status, as well as updates on their medical history and health behaviors.

Physical exams were conducted and laboratory specimens, including blood and urine, were taken.

The team confirmed the link between sleep disturbances and chronic itch, showing that pruritic dermatosis was associated with trouble falling asleep one to five times per month, waking during the night or too early in the morning, leg jerks and cramps while sleeping, and the impacts of fatigue (such as feeling overly sleepy during the day and having difficulty with memory).

They also found that these disturbances were more likely in those with elevated blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). Produced by the liver, CRP is sent into the bloodstream in response to inflammation.

It has been used as a blood test to predict cardiovascular disease when other biomarkers, primarily low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, are at normal levels.

The team found CRP levels were 52.8% higher among chronic pruritic dermatosis patients reporting trouble sleeping compared to those who did not.

This suggests that along with the reduction in quality of life brought on by chronic itch, these patients also may have heightened cardio-metabolic risk.

The researchers add that while chronic pain is well recognized in the medical community, many patients with chronic itch quietly suffer because there are no approved therapies for the condition.

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