Itchiness is an uncomfortable feeling that makes you want to scratch the affected area. If the skin on your stomach is itchy, it could be caused by many things. Stomach itchiness is often caused by a minor issue, such as dry skin or an insect bite. But if the itchiness persists or occurs with other symptoms, it might be a sign of a more serious condition that requires treatment.
Learn which conditions can make your belly itch and what to do if you can’t stop scratching.
What causes an itchy stomach?
Causes of an itchy stomach can be grouped into five main categories:
- skin conditions
- insect bites
- other conditions
One of the most common causes of itchiness is dry skin. Cold weather, hot showers, and harsh detergents can all lead to skin dryness. Some people are more prone to it than others. You’re most likely to develop dry skin on your arms and legs, but it can also affect your stomach.
Contact dermatitis is another skin condition that can cause itchiness. It can be triggered by contact with an irritating substance, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and some household chemicals. It can also be caused by an allergic reaction, such as from latex or pet fur.
Psoriasis is another itchy skin condition. This autoimmune disease causes your body to produce too many skin cells. As your excess skin cells die and slough off, they produce silvery-white scales that build up on your skin. These patches are called plaques. Some forms of psoriasis also cause red dots or blisters to form on your skin. Psoriasis can affect most parts of your body, including your stomach.
Besides itchiness, skin conditions can cause other symptoms, such as:
- burning or stinging sensation
- skin flaking or peeling
- cracks in your skin that might bleed
- skin redness
- rash, hives, or fluid-filled blisters
If you develop itchy red bumps on your belly, they might be bug bites. Here’s a quick way to tell what bug bit you:
- Mosquito bites are round and raised.
- Bedbug bites form in a zigzag pattern down your body.
- Fleas leave red, very itchy spots. You may find these bite marks near your waistband, where fleas can sneak under your clothes.
You don’t have to see bugs to be bitten by them. Many bugs, such as bedbugs, attack at night.
If you’re pregnant, you might find yourself scratching your growing belly. This itchiness can result from changes in your hormone levels and the stretching skin on your belly.
In rare cases, itchiness during pregnancy can be a sign of a liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). ICP happens when bile, a digestive fluid, can’t flow normally out of your liver. This condition usually starts late in pregnancy. It causes very intense itching that affects your hands and feet, too. Other signs and symptoms include:
- dark urine
- light-colored bowel movements
- yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes, known as jaundice
- loss of appetite
If you think you might have ICP, contact your doctor. This condition needs to be treated right away.
Menopause is the time when a woman stops getting her periods and her estrogen production ends. The average age of onset in the United States is 51 years. If you’re experiencing menopause, the decline of estrogen in your body can dry out your skin, including on the skin on your stomach. This can cause itchiness.
Sometimes, stomach itchiness can result from another health condition. For example, chickenpox, hypothyroidism, and some forms of cancer can cause itchiness.
Chickenpox is a contagious virus that usually strikes in childhood. It causes an itchy red rash, which might first appear on the stomach. Other common signs and symptoms of chickenpox include:
- loss of appetite
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland is underactive. When it’s working properly, your thyroid releases hormones that control your body’s metabolism and help keep your skin healthy. When it’s underactive, it produces too little of these hormones. This can cause dry, itchy skin. Other common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- cold feeling
- weight gain
- thin, dry hair
- brittle nails
- slow heart rate
- trouble concentrating
Cancer is a large group of diseases that develop when abnormal cells in your body divide uncontrollably. In rare cases, some forms of cancer will make your skin dry out and become itchy. Cancer treatments can also cause itchiness.
When to call a doctor
Depending on the cause of your itchy stomach, you may have other symptoms, too. If the itchiness doesn’t get better with home treatments after a few days, make an appointment with your doctor. You should also contact your doctor if:
- you develop open sores
- your skin is red and warm or leaks pus
- you’re running a fever higher than 102°F
- you have signs of a serious allergic reaction, such as swelling around your mouth, a rapid heartbeat, or trouble breathing
- you have pain in your stomach
- you’re more than 28 weeks pregnant and the itching won’t go away
How is the cause diagnosed?
If your stomach itchiness lasts more than a few days or is accompanied by more serious symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms and medical history and conduct a physical exam. They may also refer you to a dermatologist, a type of doctor who specializes in skin conditions, or another specialist.
Your doctor will look for any redness, bumps, or other changes to the skin on your belly. They will also ask you questions such as:
- When did the itching start?
- What seems to make the itching worse or better?
- How often do you shower or bathe?
- What types of skin care products do you use?
- Are you allergic to any detergents, chemicals, or other products?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
- Have you noticed any other symptoms?
They may also use one or more tests to help diagnose the cause of your symptoms. For example, they might conduct or order:
- allergy tests, to learn if you’re allergic to substances that might irritate your skin
- a biopsy, or a procedure in which they will remove a piece of skin from your belly and examine it under a microscope to check for abnormalities in your skin
- blood tests, to check your thyroid hormone levels or liver function
How is stomach itchiness treated?
Your recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause of your itchy stomach.
Contact dermatitis: Take steps to identify and avoid substances that trigger a reaction. To relieve symptoms, your doctor may advise you to take an oral antihistamine or to rub a steroid cream onto your skin.
Psoriasis: Your doctor may prescribe creams, such as corticosteroids, vitamin D analogues, anthralin, and topical retinoids. They may also recommend ultraviolet light therapy to slow the cell turnover that causes psoriasis.
Insect bites: Wash the bites with soap and water. Then apply calamine lotion or another topical antihistamine. You can also take an oral antihistamine. If you have fleas or bedbugs, call an exterminator to control the infestation.
ICP during pregnancy: Your doctor will prescribe the medication ursodiol (Actigall, Urso). It lowers the amount of bile in your blood. This can help relieve itchiness and other symptoms.
Menopause: Your doctor may recommend hormone therapy depending on the severity of your symptoms. However, this treatment can have risks. Discuss it carefully with your doctor.
Chickenpox: Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir (Valtrex, Zovirax). To relieve itchiness, rub calamine lotion on the rash.
Hypothyroidism: Your doctor will likely prescribe a synthetic thyroid hormone.
Cancer: Your doctor may prescribe a combination of chemotherapy drugs, radiation, and surgery.
What is the outlook?
Your outlook also depends on the cause of your stomach itchiness. Some skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis or bug bites, clear up with treatment in a week or two. More serious conditions can take longer to improve.
How can you prevent itchy skin?
To help prevent stomach itchiness:
- Take short showers and baths, and use warm rather than hot water.
- Apply a moisturizing lotion, cream, or ointment to your skin every day.
- Avoid using harsh soaps and other cosmetic products that dry out your skin.
- Turn on a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.
- Wear soft, breathable fabrics, such as cotton and silk.
- Drink plenty of water.