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Brachioradial Pruritus Medication

  • Author: Julianne Mann, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 03, 2015

Medication Summary

Treatment of brachioradial pruritus remains a challenge. Most patients find relief with the application of cold packs that numb the skin; hence, a positive "ice-pack sign" is almost pathognomonic for this condition.[3] Oral antihistamines and topical corticosteroids are only occasionally of value. If potent or superpotent topical corticosteroids are used, care must be taken to avoid cutaneous atrophy from overzealous use. Occasionally, patients are helped with topical anesthetics (eg, lidocaine cream or gel) or with 5% topical doxepin.

Substance P is a neurotransmitter important in the transmission of pain and itch neural signals. Topical capsaicin cream (0.025-0.05%) is a natural plant product that depletes substance P from cutaneous nerve endings.[38] It has been reported by a number of authors to provide relief of brachioradial pruritus within weeks,[14, 20, 39, 40, 41] although the authors have not found it to be useful in their patients.

Numerous oral medications have been tried with varying success. Case reports describe sustained symptomatic relief with gabapentin (1800 mg/d),[31] lamotrigine (200 mg/d),[7] amitriptyline (25-150 mg qhs),[20] and pimozide (1-2 mg/d). Oxcarbemazepine has proven effective in several patients reported by Savk and Savk.[29] Risperidone has been used with some success in certain patients. No medication works predictably. When using psychotropic medications, obtaining a psychiatric opinion is advisable unless the treating physician commonly prescribes these agents.


Analgesic, Topical

Capsaicin topical (Zostrix High Potency, Trixaicin HP, Zostrix Sports)


Capsaicin is a natural chemical derived from plants of the Solanaceae family. It penetrates deep for temporary relief of minor aches and pains of muscles and joints associated with inflammatory reactions. Capsaicin may render skin and joints insensitive to pain by depleting substance P in peripheral sensory neurons. It has demonstrated effectiveness in several studies of diabetic neuropathic pain and in other types of neuropathic pain.


Antianxiety Agent

Doxepin cream (Prudoxin, Zonalon)


Doxepin is a TCA that has potent H1-blocking activity, making it quite useful for urticaria. However, it has very potent sedative and anticholinergic effects. It can be quite effective if used at bedtime because the sedative effects can help a patient with pruritus sleep. Widespread use produces sedation, as does use in areas of high percutaneous absorption (eg, genitals). Many individuals develop an allergy to topical doxepin.


Antiarrhythmic Agent, Class I-b

Lidocaine (Topicaine, Senatec)


Lidocaine decreases permeability to sodium ions in neuronal membranes. This results in the inhibition of depolarization, blocking the transmission of nerve impulses



Gabapentin (Gabarone, Neurontin)


Gabapentin is a membrane stabilizer, a structural analogue of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which paradoxically is thought not to exert effect on GABA receptors. It appears to exert action via the alpha(2)delta1 and alpha(2)delta2 auxiliary subunits of voltage-gaited calcium channels. Gabapentin is used to manage pain and provide sedation in neuropathic pain.


Antidepressant, Tricyclic

Amitriptyline (Elavil)


Amitriptyline is an analgesic for certain chronic and neuropathic pain. It blocks the reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, which increases concentration in the CNS. It decreases pain by inhibiting spinal neurons involved in pain perception. Amitriptyline is highly anticholinergic. It is often discontinued because of somnolence and dry mouth.

Cardiac arrhythmia, especially in overdose, has been described; monitoring QTc interval after reaching target level is advised. Up to 1 month may be needed to obtain clinical effects.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Julianne Mann, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine

Julianne Mann, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


David J Elpern, MD Consulting Staff, The Skin Clinic

David J Elpern, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Hawaii Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Britton R Mann, DAOM, Dipl OM, LAc Private Practitioner in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, Metolius Natural Medicine

Britton R Mann, DAOM, Dipl OM, LAc is a member of the following medical societies: Pain Society of Oregon, Oregon Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

David F Butler, MD Section Chief of Dermatology, Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System; Professor of Dermatology, Texas A&M University College of Medicine; Founding Chair, Department of Dermatology, Scott and White Clinic

David F Butler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, Alpha Omega Alpha, Association of Military Dermatologists, American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for MOHS Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jeffrey Meffert, MD Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology, University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio

Jeffrey Meffert, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Association of Military Dermatologists, Texas Dermatological Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Jacek C Szepietowski, MD, PhD Professor, Vice-Head, Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology, Wroclaw Medical University; Director of the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Orfagen for consulting; Received consulting fee from Maruho for consulting; Received consulting fee from Astellas for consulting; Received consulting fee from Abbott for consulting; Received consulting fee from Leo Pharma for consulting; Received consulting fee from Biogenoma for consulting; Received honoraria from Janssen for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Medac for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Dignity Sciences for consulting; .

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Area of pruritus demarcated in pen in a middle-aged woman with brachioradial pruritus. Macroscopically, no skin changes are visible.
Subtle excoriations on the dorsal forearm of a middle-aged woman with brachioradial pruritus.
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