The skin has been described as a window into internal disease. You can’t see your internal organs with your naked eye but the skin is available for examination.
The skin can reflect disease in virtually every organ system of your body. Kidney disease can be reflected on the skin in many ways. Here are some of the presentations of kidney disease on the skin:
1. Itch (pruritus) – Individuals with chronic kidney failure often experience itching. The itching can be quite difficult to treat and can affect all the skin. I’ve had patients tell me that it feels like the itch is coming from “deep within.” The itch can lead to scratching which leads to further itching, etc. (the itch-scratch cycle)
2. Dry skin (xerosis) – The skin can become dry and scaly and lead to itch in and of itself. Liberal use of moisturizers can help.
3. Dark, yellowing or pale skin – Kidney disease can be associated with darkening (hyperpigmentation) of the skin, yellowing of the skin (thought to be from carotenoids), or pale skin from low blood counts.
4. Nail changes – Lindsay’s half and half nails are described in patients with renal failure — the far half of the nail is pink or reddish while the half of the nail closer to the cuticle is white.
Other conditions such as calciphylaxis, perforating diseases (“perforating disorder of renal disease”) or calcinosis cutis are also related to kidney disease.