BACKGROUND: Uraemic pruritus is a common problem in end-stage renal failure patients. Traditional therapies produce marginal or no results. Acupuncture has been reported to be effective. The aim of this randomized, controlled study was to validate a single acupoint for relieving uraemic pruritus. METHODS: We randomized 40 patients with refractory uraemic pruritus into two groups. In group 1 (n = 20), acupuncture was applied unilaterally at the Quchi (LI11) acupoint thrice weekly for 1 month. In group 2 (controls, n = 20), acupuncture was applied at a non-acupoint 2 cm lateral to Quchi (LI11) thrice weekly for 1 month. Subjects responded to a pruritus score questionnaire given before and at the end of the 1 month treatment and at a 3 months follow-up. The results of the pruritus scores were analysed with the repeated measures general linear model to examine the effect of acupuncture on pruritus scores. RESULTS: In group 1, pruritus scores before and after acupuncture and at the 3 month follow-up were 38.3+/-4.3, 17.3+/-5.5 and 16.5+/-4.9, and in group 2 (controls) they were 38.3+/-4.3, 37.5+/-3.2 and 37.1+/-5, respectively. Laboratory tests showed no significant differences between the two groups. Pruritus scores were significantly lower after acupuncture and at the 3 month follow-up, P<0.001. CONCLUSIONS: Acupuncture at the Quchi (LI11) acupoint is an easy, safe and effective means of relieving uraemic pruritus.