Are you wondering, “Why does my stomach itch?” Then read on to find out some of the most common causes of itchy stomach, with or with no rash, and why itching is common during pregnancy. We will also highlight how to treat and get rid of itchy skin rashes on the stomach and the associated symptoms such as bumps.
What Does It Mean When Your Stomach Itches
- 1 What Does It Mean When Your Stomach Itches
- 2 Itchy Stomach during Pregnancy – Why Does My Stomach Itch During Pregnancy?
- 3 Other Causes of Itchy Skin on Stomach
- 4 Tips and Home Remedies for Itchy Stomach Relief
- 5 References
Itchy skin on the stomach is usually an indication of exposure to mechanical stress (e.g., stretching), irritants (or allergens), or infectious agents.
The skin on the stomach (and other parts of the body) contains many sensory nerve endings which are responsible for itch and pain sensations.
When damaged or exposed to inflammatory mediators, e.g., irritants, these nerve endings get activated and send a signal to the brain. The brain responds by evoking an unpleasant itching sensation. This causes a strong desire to scratch the affected area of skin.
Itching is the body’s natural way to alert your body of imminent danger. Scratching reflex, on the other hand, is how the body physically removes any physical threat. Depending on the actual cause of the problem, scratching alone may or may not help to stop the itch. When your belly itches as a result of an underlying disease, for example, it may be necessary to treat the disease first.
Itchy Stomach during Pregnancy – Why Does My Stomach Itch During Pregnancy?
I see the question, “my stomach itches, could I be pregnant?” pretty often. The answer is yes and no. While it is normal to have an itchy tummy during pregnancy, it is unlikely to happen very early in the pregnancy as to count as a sign of pregnancy.
By the time you develop the itching, you are likely to have observed other signs of pregnancy such as missed periods, nausea, frequent urination, and fatigue.
As for what causes itchy stomach during pregnancy, it is usually because of stretching of the skin to accommodate the growing belly. For some women, the stretching means drier than usual skin which then causes it to feel itchy.
According to the NHS Choices, the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and menopause can also play a part in the itching.
Most cases of stomach itching during pregnancy occur during the second trimester (13-28 weeks), but it can as well happen in the late-first trimester. This is especially true for women pregnant with twins; they get more prominent itching that tends to occur earlier.
Home Remedies for Itching On Stomach during Pregnancy
Now that we have an answer for the question, “My stomach itches, could I be pregnant?” lets us now take a look at some of the home remedies you can use for itchy skin during pregnancy:
- Avoid further irritation and moisturize adequately. Avoid taking hot showers or baths as these can further dry and aggravate your skin. Avoid scratching the area. Use mild soaps. After a bath, moisturize your skin with a good lotion or cocoa butter.
- Have a warm oatmeal bath. To make an oatmeal bath, grind a cup of uncooked oats in a food processor, then pour the resulting powder in a tub of warm water. Alternatively, get a ready-to-use oatmeal bath preparation such as Aveeno.
- Apply baking soda paste to the stomach. Simply mix baking soda with water to prepare it. Finish off by moisturizing the tummy to avoid the drying effect of this home remedy.
- Dab some apple cider vinegar on the itchy tummy. Apple cider vinegar is a great natural remedy for itchy stomach and other parts of the skin.
- Apply aloe vera gel to the tummy. Aloe vera is known for its ability to soothe and repair damaged skin. Try dabbing an aloe vera gel such as Amara Organics on the skin twice daily.
- Pamper the itchy stomach with coconut oil. You may also find coconut oil helpful in alleviating stomach dryness and itchiness during pregnancy.
- Hold a cold compress on the itchy areas of the stomach. A damp flannel or washcloth also goes a long way in stopping the itchiness associated with pregnancy.
- Apply anti-itch cream. Calamine lotion can help to soothe severe cases of stomach itching.
When to Be Concerned About Itchy Stomach during Pregnancy
Although itchy belly during pregnancy is nothing to worry about, it can be a sign of an underlying health problem. You should see your healthcare provider if the itching on the stomach:
- Is accompanied by a red itchy rash. This could be a condition known as PUPPP, an abbreviation for Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy. Usually occurring in the third trimester, PUPP is characterized by an intensely itchy rash on the stomach which is punctuated by raised, red bumps. PUPP goes away as soon as you give birth. In the meantime, your doctor may prescribe steroid creams or Benadryl.
- Is accompanied by symptoms of liver problems. Watch out for loss of appetite, yellow skin (jaundice), vomiting, and nausea. This coupled with itchy stomach (with no rash) are classic signs of a liver problem referred to as obstetric cholestasis or Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), especially if they occur during the third trimester. The condition is caused by a buildup of bile acids in the bloodstream. It increases the risk of childbirth considerably.
- Spreads to other parts of the body. It is not uncommon for the itching initially experienced on the tummy to spread to other parts of the body (especially hands and feet) when serious conditions such as obstetric cholestasis are involved.
Other Causes of Itchy Skin on Stomach
What if you have an itchy stomach but are not pregnant? Other than pregnancy, there are other possible causes of stomach itch, some of which are general and others more specific to the abdominal area of the skin. These include:
Also referred to as xerosis, dry skin is one of the most common causes of itchy stomach especially one that is not accompanied by a rash. One of the most common underlying causes of dry skin is a plunge in humidity levels. This is commonly seen in winter, but human-influenced changes can as well occur with constant use of air conditioning.
Frequent bathing, especially with hot water, can also cause dry skin and culminate in itching on the stomach and other parts of the body. Antibacterial soaps and chlorinated water can also contribute to the problem. Dry skin can also occur as a symptom of an underlying dermal condition.
Applying a good quality moisturizer can help reduce dryness and the associated abdominal itching.
Irritants and Allergens
An itchy stomach can also occur as a result of allergic or irritant contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when irritants such as soaps, cosmetics, perfumes, sweat, and woolen clothing get into contact with and cause direct damage to the skin. This often manifests itself in an itching sensation that may or may not be accompanied by a red rash and a burning sensation.
Allergic contact dermatitis is on the other hand associated with a skin allergy. This occurs when a substance (allergen) such as fragrances, dyes, latex, etc. comes into contact with a hypersensitive person’s skin, triggering an inflammatory immune reaction. This manifests itself in a red, itchy rash that is sometimes accompanied by swollen bumps or hives.
Some people may also experience a red, itchy rash on stomach after eating certain foods. This is often an indication of an allergy to that specific food. Some people are for example allergic to gluten. Food allergies show up as red, raised, itchy bumps and are likely to spread to other parts of the body.
Pityriasis Rosea (Christmas tree Rash)
According to the Right Diagnosis website, itchy spots on the stomach may also be indicative of a skin rash known as pityriasis rosea or Christmas tree rash. Christmas tree rash is thought to be a viral infection. A Christmas tree-shaped rash is the hallmark of the disease, but as much as 50% of cases are reported to have mild to severe itching.
Christmas tree rash begins with one large patch or raised skin on the abdomen, chest, or neck before progressing into a skin rash that covers the abdomen, chest, back, legs, or arms. Sweat and stress can worsen the condition and make itching more severe.
Shingles are another likely cause of itchy stomach. This dermal condition is characterized by blisters and red rash eruption on the skin. It is attributed to the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus). When a person gets and recovers from an episode of chickenpox infection, the virus remains in the body in a dormant state. In some people, the virus reactivates, causing an outbreak of shingles.
Symptoms of shingles include pain, tingling, and itching in the torso area. This is typically accompanied by a red rash and fluid-filled blisters. The painful rash tends to show up on one side of the body (e.g., one side of the stomach) or face.
Some people experience other symptoms such as fever, stomach upset and pain, confusion, memory loss, and tiredness.
It is not precisely clear what cause a reactivation of the Varicella zoster virus, but scientists believe weakened immune system may have a hand in it.
Shingles are highly contagious. On a good note though, they typically clear on their own in a time span of 2-4 weeks. Although no cure for shingles is known, several treatment options are available to offer relief for the symptoms, especially the pain while shortening the duration of infection. These include antiviral medications, painkillers, and steroid medications.
If your itchy stomach is determined to be a symptom of shingles, your doctor will determine the most appropriate treatment regimen for you.
Reaction to Medications
If you recently started using a new medication, there are chances that it is the underlying cause of your itchy, red rash on the stomach. According to the Mayo Clinic, adverse reactions involving antibiotics, antifungal, and some narcotic pain medications is a common culprit for skin itching.
Although it is possible for an itchy stomach to be indicative of a reaction to medication, the rash will be more often than not generalized; covering other parts of the body as well.
Consider talking to your doctor or healthcare provider if you suspect a case of adverse reaction to medication. If necessary, they will change the prescription for you.
More Diseases and Conditions that can Cause Itchy Stomach
Other possible underlying causes of an itchy abdomen and associated problems include:
- Kidney failure
- Thyroid disorders
- Insect bites, e.g., bedbug bites. You should suspect this if you can spot small bumps along with bite-like spots around them.
- Fungal infections. An anti-fungal cream (sold over the counter) can come in handy in the treatment of a scaly, itchy stomach due to fungal infections.
- Tummy tuck recovery: you are likely to experience a slight itching as nerves regrow along the incision line following an abdominoplasty.
- Peptic ulcer disease
Tips and Home Remedies for Itchy Stomach Relief
To soothe and heal itchy rash on the stomach (or itchy skin with no rash), consider the following tips and home remedies:
- Do not scratch the affected area of your tummy.
- Moisturize the skin on your tummy (and indeed all over your body) to keep it hydrated. Do this immediately after shower or bath. Cocoa butter is a particularly good choice. It is also safe to use during pregnancy.
- Use warm, not hot water for your bathing purposes.
- Switch to fragrance-free, mild soap. Also, avoid using fabric softener for all clothing items that come into contact with your belly.
- If your skin is sensitive to wool, avoid woolen wear. Instead wear clothing made of silk, cotton, or cashmere. Also, wear loose-fitting clothes to prevent chaffing. Pants, skirts, and underwear that rest below your tummy – as opposed to the granny style up-and-over items – are also an excellent choice. They are less likely to irritate your skin. It is also important to go light in hot weather.
- Run a humidifier in your bedroom.
- Have an oatmeal bath to soothe the itching. Ground oatmeal mixed with warm water will do, but you can always use an over-the-counter oatmeal product such as Aveeno.
- Soak a washcloth in cold water and then pat it gently on the area of the tummy affected by the itchy rash.
If an itchy stomach gets worse or stays longer than a few days, even with the use of these remedies, consult with your doctor. It could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that needs treatment. Also, although it is normal to experience an itchy stomach during pregnancy, you should be on the lookout for any tell-tale sign of serious health problems.
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- Potenzieri, C., & Undem, B. J. (2012). Basic Mechanisms of Itch. Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 42(1), 8-19. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03791.x
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- Sandeen, D. (n.d.). Pregnancy Symptoms with Twins. Retrieved from http://pregnancy.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Pregnancy_Symptoms_with_Twins
- TuckThatTummy.com: In The Months After Tummy Tuck Surgery
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- ZocDoc: What Causes Itching Around the Abdominal Region?