Thalidomide for the treatment of chronic refractory pruritus

Divya Sharma, Shawn G. Kwatra

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Pruritus is a common and often times difficult to treat symptom in many dermatologic and systemic diseases. For pruritus with an inflammatory or autoimmune origin, therapies such as topical corticosteroids and antihistamines are often initiated. However, in the case that these and additional systemic therapies are ineffective, thalidomide, an immunomodulator and neuromodulator, may be a useful alternative treatment. Considerable relief of chronic pruritus has been demonstrated with thalidomide in case reports, case series, and controlled trials. Double-blind controlled studies demonstrated thalidomide's efficacy as an antipruritic agent in patients with uremic pruritus, primary biliary cirrhosis, and prurigo nodularis. In case reports, case series, and open-label trials, thalidomide significantly reduced pruritus associated with conditions such as actinic prurigo and paraneoplastic pruritus. Because of variations in study design and evaluation of antipruritic effect, it is difficult to fully understand thalidomide's role based on the evidence described to date in the medical literature. In this review, we provide an overview of the reported findings and evaluate thalidomide's utility in managing refractory pruritus in the context of its adverse risk profile. We propose that thalidomide can be an alternative or combination antipruritic treatment for patients who do not obtain enough relief from conservative therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-369
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • actinic prurigo
  • itch
  • prurigo nodularis
  • pruritus
  • thalidomide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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