News Release: Emory Healthcare , Research , School of Medicine

Jun. 16,  2011

Never-ending Itch Impacts Lives

Sensation Can Be Treatment Resistant

News Article ImageImage credit: Orrling and Tomer Scheib

ATLANTA – A study by Emory researchers has shown that patients who endure chronic pruritus (itching sensation) are impacted in much the same way as patients who deal with chronic pain.  Data from the study were published Online First by Archives of Dermatology on June 16, 2011.

“Chronic pruritus can have a devastating effect on patients, causing health problems such as depression, anxiety and interruption of sleep,” says Suephy Chen, MD, MS, lead investigator for the study and associate professor of Dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine.  

“Although it is believed that the condition may be fairly common and it shares many similarities to chronic pain, pruritus has not been widely studied for its effect on patients’ quality of life.” 

To determine the impact of pruritus on patients’ lives, Chen and her colleagues assessed men and women who had been experiencing either puritus or pain for six or more weeks using a quality of life measure called utilities.

The data from the study showed that the mean utility score of patients with chronic pruritus was 0.87, indicating that the average patient was willing to forfeit 13 percent of life expectancy to live without pruritus.  This suggests a considerable burden of disease.  The results also indicated that chronic pruritus has a quality of life impact comparable to that of chronic pain.

In addition, the study showed that significant social relationships - such as marriage - seemed to have a positive effect on the symptoms, perhaps by aiding in economic well being, healthier lifestyles, lower stress and social support.

“There is a lack of understanding and information about the suffering that people endure from this symptom,” says Chen. “Our study highlights the importance of developing new therapies to treat the symptom or underlying condition, and the value in building support networks to help these patients cope.”

Other Emory investigators include, Seema P. Kini, MD, MSCR, Laura K. DeLong, MD, MPH, Department of Dermatology; Emir Veledar, PhD, Department of Medicine; Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown, MD, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine; Dr. Michael Schaufele, MD, Department of Orthopedics.

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
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Web: http://emoryhealthsciences.org

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