June 22, 2011

Never-ending itch impacts lives

A study by Emory researchers has shown that patients who endure chronic pruritus, or an itching sensation, are impacted in much the same way as patients who deal with chronic pain. 

"Chronic pruritus can have a devastating effect on patients, causing health problems such as depression, anxiety and interruption of sleep," says Suephy Chen, lead investigator for the study and associate professor of dermatology at the 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."

Chen and her colleagues assessed men and women who had been experiencing either pruritus 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. The results also indicated that chronic pruritus has a quality of life impact comparable to that of chronic pain and that the condition is a considerable burden of disease.

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."

Data from the study were published online June 16 by the Archives of Dermatology.

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

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