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Itch Linked to Depression, Suicidal Thoughts in Dermatological Patients

Itch contributes significantly to the psychological burden among patients with dermatologic disorders and is associated with increased risk of clinical depression, suicide ideation, and stress, according to the results of a recent study.

Although the burden of itch has been explored in previous studies of patients with specific skin diseases, there is a lack of cross-sectional studies that incorporate various skin diseases, according to the study authors.
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They conducted a multi-center, observational, cross-sectional study including 3530 patients and 1094 healthy controls from 13 European countries. The presence, chronicity, and intensity of itch were evaluated, as was suicidal ideation, stress, sociodemographics, and scores from the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and EQ5D-VAS.

Overall, the researchers found that the presence of itch was significantly associated with clinical depression (odds ratio [OR] 1.53 [95% CI 1.15 to 2.02]), suicidal ideation (OR 1.27 [95% CI 1.01 to 1.60]), and economic difficulties (OR 1.24 [95% CI 1.10 to 1.50]).

Further, mean EQ5D-VAS scores were 65.9 (SD=20.1) in patients with itch compared with 74.7 (SD= 18.0) in patients without itch and 74.9 (SD= 15.7) in controls with itch compared to 82.9 (SD= 15.6) in controls without itch.

“The study reveals that itch contributes substantially to the psychological burden of dermatological patients and confirms the multi-dimensional suffering of dermatological patients with itch; the management of patients with itch should involve access to a multidisciplinary team when necessary. Additionally, preventive programs might also be useful, such as psoriasis education programs or targeted web-based information,” the researchers concluded.

“In many chronic inflammatory skin disorders, early aggressive treatment tailored specifically for the patient might help to reduce itch at this earliest possible opportunity and prevent the development of mental health problems. Anti-itch interventions which are already developed should be implemented more frequently into the routine care of those patients.”

—Michael Potts


Dalgard FJ, Svensson A, Halvorsen JA, et al. Itch and mental health in dermatological patients across Europe: a cross sectional study in 13 countries [published online September 3, 2019]. JID.

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