Around three million people in the UK have kidney disease

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Tackling the irritating problem of itchy skin

Tackling the irritating problem of itchy skin Rosie Loft

14 February 2019

For some people with kidney disease, itchy skin can be much more than a minor irritant – it can cause significant discomfort and can prevent people having a good night’s sleep. This is a particular problem for young children who are having dialysis, as they may accidentally pull out catheters or fistulas when they scratch.

Dr Sabine Van De Veer and her team at the University of Manchester are carrying out Kidney Research UK’s IRRITATE project, which aims to make life more comfortable for people with kidney disease. They are finding out why people do not talk about itch, and how we could encourage them to do so.

Itchy skin

Dr Van de Beer said: “One in five people with kidney disease experience itchy skin. But they do not always discuss their itch with the care team, which means it often remains untreated, even though we have treatments that work.”

The Manchester researchers have interviewed 25 people with kidney disease who have experienced itch, together with 22 doctors and nurses from three renal centres. “Our interviews have revealed a few reasons why people aren’t telling their doctors about their itch,” explains Dr Van de Beer. “Sometimes patients don’t think their itch is caused by their kidney disease, whilst some patients and healthcare professionals don’t bring it up because they think itch can’t be treated. Sometimes the time spent with the doctor isn’t long enough, so they don’t have time to mention it – and they prioritise other, more worrying health issues.”

The researchers will now invite 60 kidney patients to help them explore whether wrist-worn activity trackers – or accelerometers – could help to solve the problem. “Accelerometers can detect nocturnal, or night-time scratching, which is a good indication of being itchy,” explains Dr Van de Beer. “By wearing an accelerometer around the wrist when they sleep, doctors can see how badly their patients have been scratching at night.”

The researchers hope their work will help kidney patients and their doctors to recognise itch as a problem and help them work out how best to treat it.

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