What is Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

Are you nearing the end of your pregnancy and experiencing an itching that is so severe it might cause you to go nuts? You may have cholestasis of pregnancy, which is a common liver disease that happens in late pregnancy. Don’t fret if you seem to be afflicted, as cholestasis of pregnancy occurs in about one out of every 1,000 pregnancies. Here’s what you can expect with cholestasis, including what causes it, symptoms and how it can be treated.

What Causes Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

Cholestasis is more common during your last trimester when pregnancy hormones are at their peak (they ruin everything!). The hormones affect liver function which causes the flow of bile to slow down or stop altogether. When the bile has nowhere to go, it can build up in the liver and spill over into the bloodstream. Early studies thought cholestasis was due to estrogen, but more recent research reveals progesterone plays a part in the buildup too. If you have a family history of cholestasis, previous liver damage or are an expecting mama carrying multiples, you may be at a higher risk.

Typical Symptoms of Cholestasis of Pregnancy

Severe and intense itching is the first obvious symptom, and sometimes it’s the only one that’s noticeable. You may also experience darker than usual urine, pale or light coloring of bowel movements, fatigue, loss of appetite and depression. Less common symptoms that you may notice with cholestasis include: jaundice (yellow coloring of skin, eyes and mucous membranes), upper-right quadrant pain or nausea.  

Does Cholestasis of Pregnancy Affect the Baby?

Because the baby does rely on the mother’s liver to help remove bile acids from the blood, cholestasis can increase the risk for fetal distress, early birth or stillbirth. The reason? Elevated levels of maternal bile can add stress to the baby’s liver. Pregnant women diagnosed with cholestasis will need to be closely monitored. Serious cases of cholestasis may require the baby to be induced as long as the lungs have fully developed.

What Are the Treatment Options for Cholestasis?

The overall goal for treatment is to provide relief for the mother and relieve the itching. How the doctor proceeds forward with treatment depends on your overall pregnancy and medical history, the severity of the condition, tolerance of medications and treatments and expectations for how the disease might progress. You may be prescribed anti-itch medications that help with itching or a medicine that can decrease the concentration of the bile acids. Non-stress tests that monitor your baby’s heart and any early contractions as well as regular blood tests round out a potential course of treatment. Although you may be tempted to try over-the-counter medicine, you should avoid antihistamines, Aveeno and oatmeal baths for cholestasis.

While cholestasis of pregnancy is a serious condition, don’t panic. It’s fairly common, which means a lot of moms have experienced it and have gone on to birth very healthy babies as a result. As soon as you may suspect something more than dry skin, seek help from your doctor. This is a pregnancy symptom you shouldn’t ignore. An early diagnoses means you can get a jumpstart on treatment to make sure there aren’t serious complications that could threaten the life of you and your baby.

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