Female-specific pruritus from childhood to postmenopause: clinical features, hormonal factors, and treatment considerations

Authors

  • Lauren P. Rimoin,

    1. Department of Internal Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, USA
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  • Shawn G. Kwatra,

    1. Departments of †Dermatology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
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  • Gil Yosipovitch

    Corresponding author
    1. Neurobiology & Anatomy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
    2. Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
    • Departments of †Dermatology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA
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  • Funding/Conflicts of Interest: None.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Gil Yosipovitch, MD, Department of Dermatology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1071, USA, or email: gyosipov@wfubmc.edu.

Abstract

There have been considerable advances in our understanding of the pathophysiology of pruritus in recent years. The purpose of this review was to highlight itch entities in women, and in particular pruritic vulvar dermatoses that women experience among different age groups. Unique temporal shifts may contribute to the etiology of many of these conditions. These changes lead to cyclical changes in the skin's basic composition. Specifically, estrogen receptors have been detected on keratinocytes that respond to rising and falling levels of estrogen. These receptors lead to changes in skin hydration, collagen content, and in the concentration of glycosaminoglycans that form the skin barrier. In addition, hormonal pH changes associated with the menstrual cycle may be an important factor in the aggravation of itch as increasing pH is known to activate the proteinase-activated receptor-2, a well-known itch mediator. Common pruritic conditions in women that will be discussed include atopic and irritant dermatitis, psoriasis, lichen sclerosus, infectious vulvovaginitis, vulvovaginal candidiasis, atrophic vulvovaginitis, squamous cell carcinoma, lichen simplex chronicus, and neuropathic itch. We also examine pruritic conditions associated with pregnancy including pemphigoid gestationis, polymorphic eruption of pregnancy, intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy and atopic eruption of pregnancy. Finally, acceptable and contraindicated antipruritic agents in pregnancy are examined.

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