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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Itching Attacks

Updated on September 30, 2020
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Laurie Berger

Causes | Remedies

Are you experiencing persistent and painful itching with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? You’re not alone. While itching is not a “classic” symptom of RA, myRAteam members are frequently plagued by prickly skin patches, rashes, and hives. “I’ll scratch and scratch. It makes me crazy!” reported one member. “It feels like something is crawling on me,” said another. “I'm literally digging myself raw,” added one man.

What Causes Itching with RA?

Itching can be an allergic reaction or side effect of RA medication. It may also be related to an underlying condition - or the RA itself.

Medication Side Effects

The reason most frequently reported by members of myRAteam? Adverse reactions to RA medications.

“Since my first Rituxan (Rituximab) infusion, I’ve been itching,” one woman wrote. “It’s an unbearable itch; the worst areas are on my hands and feet.”

Members say pain medications prescribed for RA symptoms also trigger “unbearable” itching. “Does Tramadol make anyone else itch like crazy!?” asked one woman. “It has been a lifesaver, but I can only take it at night because I also need Benadryl to prevent scratching.” Another member agreed. “I had crazy itching and a pimply rash between my fingers from Tramadol,” she explained. “It’s now on my allergy list.”

If you experience severe itching or allergic reactions, see your doctor immediately.

Underlying Disorders

Other conditions - such as allergies, psoriasis or eczema, liver or thyroid disease, certain cancers, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and shingles - can also trigger itching.

“I have skin issues that I thought were eczema,” said one myRAteam member. “[After diagnosis], it’s definitely psoriasis. Another member shared, “Many of us also have fibromyalgia, which can feel like ants are crawling all over your body, especially during the night.”

RA Inflammation

Some members of myRAteam complain of itching from inflammation caused by RA. “I get itchiness around the joints when swelling is occurring,” explained one member. “I use either [lidocaine cream] or a roll-on cooling gel.”

Uncontrolled scratching can create more inflammation that leads to disfiguration and deformities. “Whenever I itch around a knuckle, a more pronounced bump appears a day or two later,” said one woman. Another woman experiencing the wear and tear of RA itching said, “The joints in some of my fingers and toes are starting to show the damage,” she said.

A small percentage of people with severe, long-term RA may also be at risk for rheumatoid vasculitis, a related condition involving inflammation of blood vessels that causes itchy skin and eyes. “My rheumatologist is looking at vasculitis as another add-on to my diagnosis,” shared one member.

Itching with RA: Members’ Remedies

Doctors typically recommend topical steroids, oral antihistamines, and over-the-counter Benadryl to reduce or stop the itch. Members of myRAteam often pair those medications with their own home remedies:

Hot/cold compress

“I find immediate relief applying a wet washcloth to my feet. It can be cold, warm, or hot, whatever you want at the time. Many nights I fall asleep with these wet clothes on the itchy area. No more itching! Just sleep,” said one woman.

Ice

“An ice pack will take itching away,” said one member. “It’s my sister's favorite thing. If I tell her this or that itches, she says, ‘Put ice on it.’ Since she’s older and bossy, I do what she says!”

Coconut oil

“For dry, itchy skin, coconut oil works wonders. I slather myself up some nights - coconut oil in my hair and on my face. By morning, everything feels moisturized. And coconut oil doesn't leave oily marks on my pillow like some other oils do,” said a member of myRAteam.

Cannabidiol (CBD), where legal

“I’ve been using a couple of drops of CBD oil on palms of my hands and it has really helped the itchiness,” shared one woman.

Oatmeal baths

One member recommended the following: “Grind up oatmeal and use it to make a soak for your legs - or make a paste out of it and apply to itchy spots.”

Consult with your doctor or dermatologist before starting any new itching remedy.

On myRAteam team, the social network and online support group for those living with RA, members talk about a range of personal experiences including itching.

Can you relate? Have another topic you'd like to discuss or explore? Go to myRAteam today and start – or join – a conversation. You'll be surprised how many others share similar stories.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Laurie Berger has been a health care writer, reporter, and editor for the past 14 years. Learn more about her here.

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