My patient had been itchy for months. This symptom preceded their cancer diagnosis. Widespread cancer to multiple organs and bones. Normal kidney function, slightly deranged liver function tests. Troubled by pain and nausea but these had been brought under control with medications in a syringe driver. It was the itch which caused the most suffering. Constant irritation of the skin, led to multiple skin wounds. The patient’s finger nails had dried up blood accumulated under each nail. Sleep had been broken by itch. Being in bed under sheets and blankets led to heating up and worsened itch.
On examination the patient’s skin was covered in scratch marks with many healing scabs all over the body. No limb was spared, back and front were no different. Nose was scratched, as was forehead, as was chin. Watching the patient scratching made everyone in the room feel itchy as well. What could we do? In hospital they had already tried many treatments with no success. The patient was exhausted but couldn’t relax to sleep because of the itch.
I ended up throwing the medication book at them Moisturising anti-itch creams with added Menthol were ordered in. I wanted to cover any nerve-related component of itch with increased nerve pain relief medication, Pregabalin. They were already on H1-Histamine blockers. Covering the other H2- Histamine receptor might be helpful. The patient and their family were keen to try anything on offer. Mirtazapine was started to help with the itch and hopefully a better nights sleep as a side-effect.
The next morning my patient was reported to have slept well. The itch was much improved for the first time in months. Which medication had helped? I wasn’t sure but I didn’t want to change anything as something had worked.
A small victory in hospice/palliative care? I’ll take whatever I can get.