Itchy skin linked to hepatitis C infection

November 2, 1998
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- In some cases, itchy skin may be the first symptom of chronic hepatitis C infection, a study suggests.

In a study of 19 patients referred for treatment for severely itchy skin, 4 (21%) were found to have hepatitis C, according to a report in the October issue of Digestive Diseases and Sciences. And another study of 122 hepatitis C patients showed that about 4% had severe itchy skin, known medically as pruritus.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that can lead to liver failure and the need for liver transplant. Dr. Jay H. Hoofnagle, of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, and colleagues took a closer look at eight of the patients from the studies, who were aged 35 to 68, had been diagnosed with hepatitis from 1 to 20 years previously, and had pruritus as the major or first symptom of the disease.

Liver biopsies revealed that all patients had liver damage similar to that seen in cholestasis, a liver disease caused by stagnation of the bile in the bile ducts. Itchy skin is a ommon side effect of cholestasis.

The authors conclude that ``pruritus may be the dominant symptom in patients with chronic hepatitis C and, if severe enough, may be a factor in making a decision regarding liver transplantation.''

SOURCE: Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 1998;43:2177-2183.

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