Electrical neurostimulation for the treatment of chronic pruritus: A systematic review

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Approximately one fifth of the world population experiences continuous itch for 6 weeks or more during their life, that is chronic itch. It is diverse in its aetiologies, and it is notoriously hard to treat. Because itch and pain have largely overlapping pathophysiology and the demonstrated efficacy of neurostimulation in treatment of selected chronic pain conditions, we conducted a systematic review to investigate whether neurostimulation could be an effective treatment for chronic itch. We identified two randomized controlled trials and 17 open label studies or case reports investigating various neurostimulation modalities for the treatment of refractory itch of various aetiologies. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) was the most investigated modality (n = 17), and in the largest number of conditions. Other modalities were cutaneous field stimulation (n = 2), painscrambler (n = 1), transcranial direct current stimulation (n = 1) and peripheral nerve field stimulation (n = 1). Atopic dermatitis was the most studied condition (n = 5). Despite the large heterogeneity in used stimulation paradigms and outcome parameters, all studies reported a positive effect of at least one neurostimulation modality. Our review indicates that electrical neurostimulation could be considered for the treatment of refractory chronic itch of selected aetiologies, such as atopic dermatitis or burn pruritus. However, better understanding of the mechanisms of action of the neurostimulation modalities and regimens in various pruritic conditions is necessary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-289
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Dermatology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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© 2021 The Authors. Experimental Dermatology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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