What Is Pruritus? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Video

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  • 0:01 What Is Pruritus?
  • 0:40 Symptoms & Causes
  • 2:03 Treatment
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Marisela Duque

Marisela teaches nursing courses at the college level. She also works as a unit educator, teaching experienced nurses about changes in nursing practice.

This lesson will examine what pruritis is, and its symptoms and causes. We will also look at several different treatment options that are available for this condition.

What Is Pruritus?

Have you ever had an itch that just will not go away - the kind that keeps you awake scratching and drives you nuts? If you have, then you know what it is to have pruritis.

Pruritus is the medical term for itchy skin. If you've ever had an annoying itch that makes you want to rub or scratch, then you know this can be quite aggravating. An itch can occur in a small area, such as your nose, or over your whole body. Sometimes, it may seem that the more you scratch, the itchier you are. It is important to resist the urge to scratch because you can cause breaks in the skin that may lead to secondary infections.

Symptoms & Causes

Pruritus itself is a symptom of an underlying cause. There are many things that can cause itchy skin, ranging from a mild rash to a life-threatening disease. Often times, pruritus is caused by a skin condition, such as eczema, psoriasis, scabies, lice, or chickenpox. If there are no visual changes in your skin (like a rash) then dry skin may be the cause. Dry skin is common during very hot or cold weather, when the humidity is low or when you may be bathing too much with an irritating soap.

There are instances in which pruritus is a sign of a more complex condition, including:

  • Internal diseases such as liver disease, celiac disease, anemia, thyroid problems, and cancer. This itching usually affects the whole body, and the skin may appear normal.
  • Nerve disorders like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and shingles (herpes zoster) may cause pruritus.
  • Medications such as antibiotics, antifungal medication, cancer treatment, and narcotic pain relievers may cause rashes and itching as a side effect.
  • Allergic reactions can cause pruritus that is often accompanied by hives.
  • Pregnancy sometimes causes itchy skin, especially in the areas that are growing rapidly as skin stretches, like the abdomen and breasts.


Treatment of pruritus depends on the underlying cause. For example, if a medication is causing your itching, then your doctor may switch you to a different prescription. Similarly, if your symptoms are caused by a complex disease, then getting treatment may help relieve the itching.

There are a number of home remedies available that are inexpensive and effective at relieving the itch. These measures include:

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