Neuropathic pruritus

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Abstract

Pruritus, also known as itch, is a very common, unpleasant sensation that elicits an urge to scratch. Its origin is not always in the skin, and neuropathic itch that is caused by neuronal or glial damage is common, but poorly understood by both dermatologists and neurologists. Although pruritus has not been considered as serious a symptom as pain, it is difficult to treat and—if chronic—can severely impair quality of life. Neuropathic itch is often associated with other clinical symptoms, most commonly neuropathic pain, and hypersensitization to stimuli is present in both pruritus and pain of neuropathic origin. The shared aetiology can aid in finding suitable treatment for itch in some cases, but more detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of itch, along with standardized, well-controlled trials, is needed. Pruritus research is an emerging but currently very active field, and our understanding of this sensation is rapidly increasing. Here, we review new discoveries regarding the role of the nervous system and the contribution of different pathways in pruritus, discuss the different aetiologies of neuropathic itch, and outline currently available and potential strategies for managing neuropathic pruritus.

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