Authored by Revere Health

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Itching During Pregnancy? You May Have Cholestasis

November 4, 2019 | Family Medicine

Some women experience severe itching of the hands and feet during late pregnancy. Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), a liver disease that affects digestive fluid, may be the culprit. According to the American Liver Foundation, ICP occurs in approximately 1 out of every 1,000 pregnancies.

What is Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

ICP affects the release of bile (digestive fluid) from the liver, resulting in a build-up of bile acids. Although the primary symptom of this disease is itching, ICP can cause other symptoms including fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, light-colored stools, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and nausea.

You may first experience ICP-related itching on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, but the itching can extend to other parts of the body over time.

Who is at Risk of ICP?

Genetics play a role in a woman’s risk of ICP, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine

Under normal circumstances, these genetic factors do not significantly affect liver function. During pregnancy, however, elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones can make the problem worse.

Other factors, such as having previous liver damage, a family history (mothers or sisters) of ICP and multiple pregnancies can also increase your risk. 

ICP occurs more frequently in women of Western European, Chilean and Scandinavian origin, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. However, having this genetic condition does not necessarily mean you will develop ICP if you become pregnant.

If you develop ICP, you are susceptible to getting it again in future pregnancies, although the condition will subside after delivery.

Can My Family Doctor or OB/GYN Treat ICP-Related Itching?

Depending on your medical history and the progression of the cholestasis, your doctor may prescribe medication to decrease the level of bile acids in your body, along with topical anti-itch cream.

Other options for treating ICP include taking cold baths, drinking ice water and taking supplements prescribed by your doctor.

Your doctor may also require regular fetal heart monitoring and periodic blood testing to track your liver function and the levels of bile serum in your body.

How Does Cholestasis of Pregnancy Affect My Baby?

In some cases, ICP can cause complications for your baby. Risks include premature birth, fetal distress and stillbirth, according to the American Pregnancy Association

Women with ICP should work closely with their doctor to monitor the disease’s progression and the health of their baby. Your doctor may recommend inducing labor once the baby’s breathing capacity reaches maturity. 

Following the recommendations of your family doctor or OB/GYN can help you get manage ICP and other challenges you may encounter, so you can deliver a happy, healthy baby. 

Dr. Oldham’s scope of training allows him to treat a variety of health issues from day-to-day health concerns and dermatological conditions to women’s health and obstetrics. He enjoys family medicine because he gets to help people of all ages live a more active and healthy lifestyle. He also finds great satisfaction in helping his patients achieve their health goals. Contact us today!


“Cholestasis of Pregnancy.” American Pregnancy Association.

“Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy.” U.S. National Library of Medicine.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.