What is chronic urticaria?

Updated: Jul 31, 2018
  • Author: Marla N Diakow, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Urticaria is not a single disease but a reaction pattern that represents cutaneous mast cell degranulation, with the condition being defined as chronic if lesions recur for longer than 6 weeks. Mast cell degranulation results in extravasation of plasma into the dermis, forming characteristic hives—edematous pruritic pink wheals of variable size and shape, with or without accompanying angioedema. In angioedema, the swelling is deeper than wheals and may affect mucosal surfaces. Erythema is often absent in angioedema, and typical sites of predilection include the eyelids, lips, and tongue.

In the majority of patients with chronic urticaria, no external cause or underlying disease process can be identified. Several theories regarding the pathogenesis of chronic urticaria exist but none has been conclusively established. It is a disease that can be frustrating to treat for both patients and caregivers, and it can have a detrimental effect on quality of life.

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