Itching during pregnancy – should you worry?

The onset of intense itching, especially in the last months of pregnancy, may be a sign of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.

This condition causes intense itching on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Some women experience the itching all over their body.

Cholestasis doesn’t cause any rash or skin eruptions, but the skin can become irritated due to scratching the skin to relieve the itching.

The itching tends to increase during the night and can therefore prevent the person from sleeping.

Other symptoms may also appear, but not as commonly:

  • jaundice (yellowish skin and whites of the eyes)
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite

The exact cause of cholestasis of pregnancy is not known. We do know, however, that the itching is caused by elevated concentrations of bile salts in the bloodstream. There is no way to prevent cholestasis.

The itching usually develops in the third trimester of pregnancy, but it can also occur earlier. It usually seems to get worse as the due date approaches. It usually disappears after the delivery.

If you experience intense itching during your pregnancy, and it has no obvious cause such as an allergy, promptly see a doctor. Over-the-counter medication does not relieve this type of itching and may be contraindicated during pregnancy.

If cholestasis appears to be the cause, your doctor may prescribe medication (that is safe during pregnancy) to lower your bile salt concentrations, or may recommend inducing labour, as a precautionary measure.

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