Effect of chronic pruritus on the soul

What psychological consequences can chronic pruritus have on the soul?

What can I do to keep my soul healthy despite the illness?

Dr. Ansgar Koechel, an expert in psychosomatic medicine and dermatologist, answered these and many other questions at our lecture series for patients with chronic pruritus.

Itching (pruritus) is an unpleasant sensory perception that leads to an insatiable desire to scratch. Chronic itching is one of the most common skin symptoms worldwide and one of the most distressing for those affected. The influences of itching can have different factors; biological, social or psychosomatic - or a combination of these factors.

The mere idea of itching or the observation of someone scratching can trigger itching.
Itching and the subsequent scratching can also be triggered by stress, scratching can be carried out as a distraction reaction or reinforced by unfavorable beliefs (e.g. the itching never stops). The mere anticipation or expectation of itching again can intensify itching. The brain has become "connected" to the itch over time, so that the sensation can take on a life of its own.

The consequences of this disorder can range from sleep disorders and restlessness to persistent sadness, exclusion and withdrawal.

The consequences of chronic pruritus were revealed in a multicenter study of more than 3,600 dermatological patients and 1,300 people without skin diseases from 13 European countries, including Germany. You can find the complete publication here: https://doi.org/10.1038/jid.2014.530

"People with itching suffer more frequently from psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Patients with itching showed 14.1 percent of symptoms of depression, compared to only 5.7 percent of patients with skin diseases without itching. Similar distribution patterns were also observed for anxiety and suicidal thoughts."

What can be done to prevent scratching

In addition to itch-relieving medication or therapy, it is important to try out what helps to prevent scratching on an individual basis. Scratching may provide short-term relief, but it intensifies the itching in the long term.  
A cool towel, stroking or pressing the itchy skin area could provide acute relief. Distraction or occupation could help to avoid the scratching impulse: Going for a walk, talking on the phone or meeting up with friends, keeping your hands busy, possibly sitting on your hands.

Muscle tensing and relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, resting images or cool imaginations could help, cool imaginations or a walk in fresh air.

Professional guidance on relaxation techniques or behavioral changes can be developed with the help of therapists. The aim here is to learn to consciously influence negative feelings and thoughts in order to be less at the mercy of itching.

General practitioners and dermatologists can provide information here.

Thank you Dr. Koechel for the valuable information and the time you took and a big thank you to all participants for your keen interest and questions.

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