Itchiness is an uncomfortable feeling that makes you want to scratch the affected area. If the skin on your stomach is itchy, the cause could be a variety of things.
Stomach itchiness is often caused by a minor issue, such as dry skin or an insect bite. But if the itchiness persists or occurs with other symptoms, it might be a sign of a more serious condition.
Learn which conditions can make your belly itch and what to do if you can’t stop scratching.
Causes of an itchy stomach can be grouped into six main categories:
- skin conditions
- insect bites
- a reaction to medication
- other conditions
One of the most common causes of itchiness is dry skin. Cold weather, hot showers, and harsh detergents can all lead to skin dryness.
Some people are more likely to have dry skin than others. You’re most likely to develop dry skin on your arms and legs, but it can also affect your stomach.
Eczema is a common skin condition that results in dry, scaly, itchy skin. No one knows exactly what causes eczema, but it is likely a combination of genetics and triggers. Eczema usually affects your arms, legs, and head, but it can also affect your stomach.
Contact dermatitis is a specific type of eczema that can cause itchiness. It can be triggered by contact with an irritating substance, such as poison ivy, poison oak, some household chemicals, or other substances, such as lotions, soaps, or detergents. It can also be caused by an allergic reaction, such as from latex or pet fur.
Skin infections may occur when you come in contact with:
These may start on the stomach or likely spread to the stomach from touching it with a part of your body that has developed an infection. Infections that commonly affect the stomach include ringworm and yeast infections.
Besides itchiness, skin conditions can cause other symptoms, such as:
- a burning or stinging sensation
- skin flaking or peeling
- cracks in your skin that might bleed
- skin redness
- a rash, hives, or fluid-filled blisters
If you’re pregnant, you might find yourself scratching your growing belly. This itchiness can result from:
- changes in your hormone levels that may dry your skin
- stretching skin from the expansion of your belly, especially around stretch marks
- pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP), often called pregnancy rash or erythema of pregnancy
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)
In rare cases, itchiness during pregnancy can be a sign of a liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). ICP happens when bile, a digestive fluid, can’t flow normally out of your liver.
This condition usually starts late in pregnancy. It causes very intense itching that affects the palms of your hands and soles of your feet too.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- dark urine
- light-colored bowel movements
- yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes, known as jaundice
- loss of appetite
If you think you might have ICP, contact your doctor. This condition needs to be treated right away.
Menopause is a natural part of aging when you stop getting your periods and your ovaries stop producing estrogen. The average age for the onset of menopause in the United States is
If you’re experiencing menopause, the decline of estrogen in your body can dry out your skin, including the skin on your stomach, which can cause itchiness.
If you develop itchy red bumps on your belly, they might be bug bites. Here’s a quick way to tell what bug bit you:
- Mosquito bites are round and raised.
- Bed bug bites form a zigzag pattern down your body.
- Fleas can leave discolored, itchy spots near your waistband, where they can sneak under your clothes.
You don’t have to see bugs to be bitten by them. Many bugs, such as bed bugs, attack at night.
Sometimes medication can cause an allergic reaction. This reaction can include a red, itchy rash, which may appear on the stomach.
If you think you’re having an allergic reaction to a medication, contact your doctor or seek emergency medical attention.
Sometimes, stomach itchiness can result from another health condition. For example, chickenpox, hypothyroidism, and some forms of cancer can cause itchiness.
Chickenpox, which usually occurs in childhood, is a contagious condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes an itchy red rash, which might first appear on the stomach.
Other common signs and symptoms of chickenpox include:
- loss of appetite
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland is underactive. When it’s working properly, your thyroid releases hormones that control your body’s metabolism and help keep your skin healthy. When it’s underactive, it produces too little of these hormones. This can cause dry, itchy skin.
Other common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- a cold feeling
- weight gain
- thin, dry hair
- brittle nails
- slow heart rate
- trouble concentrating
Cancer is a large group of diseases that develop when abnormal cells in your body divide uncontrollably.
In rare cases, some forms of cancer will make your skin dry out and become itchy. Cancer treatments can also cause itchiness.
Some forms of liver disease, including cirrhosis, can cause itching. Doctors aren’t sure what causes this itching, but it may be due to a combination of factors including the presence of bile salts, histamine, and other enzymes.
Your recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your itchy stomach.
Over-the-counter (OTC) oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) can relieve itching. OTC topical steroids can relieve itching and scaling, but your doctor might prescribe oral steroids if OTC options don’t help. For severe cases, they may prescribe immunosuppressants or phototherapy.
Your doctor can help you take steps to identify and avoid substances that trigger a reaction. To relieve symptoms, your doctor may recommend taking an oral antihistamine or rubbing a steroid cream onto your skin.
Topical medications can often help with skin infections. You can apply topical antibiotics to treat bacterial infections or apply antifungal sprays or creams to treat fungal infections. These are often available over the counter, but your doctor may prescribe medication if symptoms persist.
Wash the bites with soap and water. Then apply calamine lotion or another topical antihistamine. You can also take an oral antihistamine. If you have fleas or bed bugs, it’s important to call an exterminator to control the infestation to help prevent future attacks.
ICP during pregnancy
Your doctor will prescribe the medication ursodiol (Actigall, Urso). It lowers the amount of bile in your blood. This can help relieve itchiness and other symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend hormone therapy depending on the severity of your symptoms. However, this treatment can have risks. Discuss potential risks and benefits with your doctor to determine if this treatment is right for you.
Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications, such as acyclovir (Valtrex, Zovirax). To relieve itchiness, you can rub calamine lotion on the rash.
Your doctor will likely prescribe a synthetic thyroid hormone.
Your doctor may prescribe a combination of chemotherapy drugs, radiation, and surgery.
Your doctor may prescribe cholestyramine to help remove bile acid from your body. In more serious cases, you and your doctor may consider a liver transplant.
If your stomach itchiness lasts more than a few days or is accompanied by more serious symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms, medical history, and conduct a physical exam. They may also refer you to a dermatologist, a type of doctor who specializes in skin conditions, or another specialist.
Your doctor will look for any discoloration, bumps, or other changes to the skin on your belly. They will also ask you questions such as:
- When did the itching start?
- What seems to make the itching worse or better?
- How often do you shower or bathe?
- What types of skin care products do you use?
- Are you allergic to any detergents, chemicals, or other products?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
- Have you noticed any other symptoms?
They may also use one or more tests to help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. For example, they might conduct or order:
- allergy tests, to learn if you’re allergic to substances that might irritate your skin
- a biopsy, a procedure in which they’ll remove a piece of skin from your belly and examine it under a microscope to check for abnormalities in your skin
- blood tests, to check your thyroid hormone levels or liver function
To help prevent stomach itchiness:
- Take short showers and baths, and use warm water rather than hot water.
- Apply a moisturizing lotion, cream, or ointment to your skin every day.
- Avoid using harsh soaps and other cosmetic products that dry out your skin.
- Turn on a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.
- Wear soft, breathable fabrics, such as cotton and silk.
- Drink plenty of water.
Depending on the cause of your itchy stomach, you may have other symptoms too. If the itchiness doesn’t get better with home treatments after a few days, make an appointment with your doctor. You can connect to a physician in your area using the Healinggeeks FindCare tool.
You should also contact your doctor if:
- you develop open sores
- your skin is discolored and warm or leaks pus
- you’re running a fever higher than 102°F (39ºC)
- you have signs of a serious allergic reaction, such as swelling around your mouth, a rapid heartbeat, or trouble breathing
- you have pain in your stomach
- you feel excessively fatigued or just not yourself
- you’re more than 28 weeks pregnant and the itching won’t go away
Your outlook depends on the cause of your stomach itchiness. Some skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis or bug bites, clear up in a week or two with treatment.
More serious conditions can take longer to improve.
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