Are Subjective Accounts of Itch to be Relied on? The Lack of Relation Between Visual Analogue Itch Scores and Actigraphic Measures of Scratch

Caroline Sian Murray, Jonathan L. Rees

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There is a widespread belief that subjective accounts of disease are key components of measures of disease severity and quality of life. In the present study we have set out to test this hypothesis using visual analogue scales (VAS) for itch, as a subjective measure, and actigraphy as an objective measure. One-hundred and seventeen itchy children and adults (and 25 controls) were studied for clusters of nights (total number 1,654) and actigraphy scores and VAS itch taken daily. Fifty-six percent of the night-to-night variation in actigraphy scores occurred between different individuals, while 44% was intra-subject. Neither age nor sex (children's or adults') predicted actigraphy scores, and the only significant predictor of actigraphy score was disease type (p = 0.001, r(2)=0.51). In a multivariate model VAS itch score was not a significant determinant of actigraphy scores for either children or adults (p = 0.26). In order to see if there was a relation between VAS itch and actigraphy within the same patients (rather than between patients), 20 eczema patients wore the actigraph and scored VAS itch nightly for 42 nights. Little relationship was found between the actigraphy score and the VAS itch. Empirical autocorrelation analysis of VAS itch and actigraphy score reveal a clear autocorrelation for subjective VAS scores that was not found for the objective actigraphy score. Our data suggest a dissociation between scratch and perceived or recalled itch. One explanation is that VAS itch scores suffer from considerable anchoring, and context bias, and that their use in measures of disease severity is problematic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-23
Number of pages6
JournalActa Dermato-Venereologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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