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Chronic idiopathic urticaria is an ongoing skin condition whose primary symptom is hives on the skin, typically on the face or the extremities. The hives, or wheals, are typically very itchy and even painful; each one may stay on the skin anywhere from hours to over a day, and new hives may appear as older ones clear. Patients may not have them all of the time, as they can come and go for no apparent reason or due to triggers such as heat or stress. Over time, people with the condition can also develop angioedema, where painful welts and swelling occur under the surface of the skin and in surrounding tissues. Due to the disfiguring nature of the disorder, many patients also develop depression as a secondary symptom.
The main symptom of chronic idiopathic urticaria is repeated outbreaks of hives on the skin, with the condition present for more than six weeks. These wheals on the skin can be small spots or larger patches, and are typically red in color and raised from the surrounding skin. Usually they are inflamed and very itchy; some patients may end up with scarring due to repeated scratching. The lesions may also seep fluid from capillaries under the surface of the skin. Though they can appear anywhere on the body, the most common locations for hives to arise are the face, hands, and feet.
Many patients with chronic idiopathic urticaria also have angiodema. This is when there is swelling and discoloration below the skin in addition to the hives present on the surface of the skin. Often the affected areas are painful or can cause a burning sensation. Angiodema can also cause nearby tissues to become swollen; this is particularly dangerous if swelling occurs in the throat, as it can obstruct breathing.
The recurring hives caused by chronic idiopathic urticaria are often very disfiguring and embarrassing for patients, so depression is common in many sufferers. As lesions often appear on the face, it can be difficult to hide them and patients may suffer from the scrutiny of others. The condition also has no known cure, as the cause is not confirmed, and treating it can therefore often be difficult. It may also come and go for no apparent reason, making an attack difficult to anticipate. This uncertainty about when an outbreak may happen and whether or not it can effectively be treated can be disheartening for patients.