Medical Matters > Skin: Itchy

ME Essential Summer 2018


I’ve had mild intermittent eczema all my life and this has been worse since developing ME/CFS. More recently I’ve noticed a more widespread skin irritation that isn’t associated with patches of eczema. Should I be concerned?


Generalised itching of the skin (doctors call this ‘pruritis') is NOT a diagnostic symptom of ME/CFS. You must go and talk to your doctor about this – if you have not already done so. The cause may be something quite simple and straightforward. Unless the cause is obvious, your GP might want to do some blood tests to make sure that this itching isn't linked to another medical problem.

There are a number of systemic medical conditions, some of which have fatigue and ME/CFS-like symptoms, that cause more generalised itching of the skin without a rash being present.

One example of a condition that can cause pruritis and fatigue is primary biliary cirrhosis – this is often asymptomatic for some time. Symptoms include itching and fatigue, and, later, jaundice. There is a strong association with anti-mitochondrial antibodies. Standard liver function tests usually show a cholestatic pattern with elevation of serum alkaline phosphatase and gamma glutamyl transferase. Serum immunoglobulins, particularly immunoglobulin M (IgM), are usually elevated.

The NHS Itchy Skin | July 2020

See a GP if itchy skin:

    • is affecting your daily life,
    • does not get better with self-care or it keeps coming back,
    • is caused by a new rash, lump or swelling that you're worried about,
    • is all over your body; this could be a sign of something more serious.

Causes of itchy skin

Itchy skin has many possible causes. If you have other symptoms (such as a rash or swelling) this might help to find the cause. But do not try to diagnose yourself. See a GP if you're worried.

Possible causes

Common skin conditions

Skin reactions to heat or something you're allergic to

allergieshivesprickly heat

Long-term skin conditions


Fungal skin infections

thrushringwormathlete's foot

Parasites or insects living on the skin

scabieshead licepubic lice

Itchy skin is also common during pregnancy or after the menopause. This is caused by hormonal changes and usually gets better over time. In rare cases, itchy skin can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as thyroid, liver, or kidney problems.


Medical Matters is for information purposes only. The answers provided by Dr Shepherd and the ME Association’s other expert advisers should not be construed as medical advice. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice from a GP who is in charge of your clinical care, who knows you well, and who can consider other likely causes for symptoms. Seek personalised medical advice whenever a new symptom arises, or an existing symptom worsens. Don't assume that new or worsened symptoms are a result of having ME/CFS.

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