What is pruritus?

The word “pruritus” refers to itchiness. This symptom can occur in isolation, or can be the result of another condition. The most common cause of pruritus is dry skin. Skin disease, pregnancy, and medications can also cause pruritus. On very rare occasions, pruritus can be due to cancer. If itching lasts six or more weeks, pruritus is considered chronic.

Who gets pruritus?

Certain groups of people are more susceptible to pruritus, including:

  • The elderly
  • Atopic patients (seasonal allergies, hay fever, asthma, and eczema)
  • People with diseases, including diabetes, HIV infection/AIDS and various types of cancer
  • Pregnant women
  • Patients with kidney failure on dialysis

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/10/2019.


  • American Academy of Asthma Allergy & Immunology. What Makes Us Itch? Accessed 11/7/2019.
  • National Cancer Institute. Pruritus Accessed 11/7/2019.
  • Merck Manual Consumer Version. Itching. Accessed 11/7/2019.
  • Cleveland Clinic. Center for Continuing Education: Disease Management: Pruritus. Accessed 11/7/2019.
  • DermNet New Zealand Trust. Pruritus. Accessed 11/7/2019.
  • Berger TG. Chapter 6. In: McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA, Rabow MW, eds. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2012. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2012.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy