A new study links chronic itch to sleep loss and other medical conditions—and could signal an increased risk of heart disease, researchers say.
Many people suffer from a skin disorder known as chronic pruritic dermatosis, commonly referred to as “chronic itch.” Recent research has suggested that chronic itch may be at the root of other related medical conditions, including sleep disturbances.
“…along with the reduction in quality of life brought on by chronic itch, these patients also may have heightened cardiometabolic risk.”
Now, researchers have gone a step further, providing more evidence that the connection between chronic itch and sleep problems exists, and that these patients may be at greater risk for cardiac disease as indicated by elevated levels of a circulating protein sometimes used to predict heart problems.
Chronic itch has been associated in previous studies with 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 new investigation, researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine studied 5,560 US adults. They obtained background data on the participants from the 2005–2006 edition of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a federal database tracking the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States over long periods of time. Researchers use NHANES findings to determine the prevalence of major diseases and risk factors for those illnesses.
Researchers surveyed participants for their current social and demographic status, as well as updates on their medical history and health behaviors. They also conducted physical exams and collected laboratory specimens, including blood and urine.
The study results confirm 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).
The team also found that patients with elevated blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) were more likely to experience these disturbances. The liver produces CRP, which goes into the bloodstream in response to inflammation. Researchers have used it as a blood test to predict cardiovascular disease when other biomarkers, primarily low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, are at normal levels.
“CRP levels were 52.8% higher among chronic pruritic dermatosis patients reporting trouble sleeping compared to those who did not,” says Shawn Kwatra, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “This suggests that along with the reduction in quality of life brought on by chronic itch, these patients also may have heightened cardiometabolic risk.”
Kwatra adds “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.”
The study appears in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.
Source: Johns Hopkins University