Cholestasis of Pregnancy

What is Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

Cholestasis is an umbrella term for any health issue that impairs the secretion of bile. For instance. Cholestasis during pregnancy is caused by increased hormone levels and is common during the last trimester.

Since digestive fluid is not secreted normally, it can build up in the liver. The condition doesn’t pose long-term health risks to the expectant mother, but its hallmark symptom of intense itching can be uncomfortable. While cholestasis isn’t usually dangerous for the mother, it can be dangerous for the developing baby, thus requiring an early delivery.

What are the Symptoms of Cholestasis of Pregnancy?

Cholestasis can cause an intense itching feeling all over the body, but most women feel the itchiness on the bottom of their feet and on the palms of their hands. This itchiness can be so uncomfortable that it may cause insomnia for some women. As a woman approaches her due date, the severity of the itchiness and other symptoms can increase. Some other symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, loose or light-colored stools, dark urine, nausea, lack of appetite, and depression.

Cholestasis of Pregnancy Causes

The cause of cholestasis of pregnancy is a problem with the liver during pregnancy. The exact cause of this condition is unclear, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic factors and hormones. Women who have family members who have had this condition during pregnancy are more likely to get it. It can also skip multiple generations.

When the condition is inherited, it is believed that those affected have inherited a problem with the way their bile is made in the liver and the way it goes into the bile ducts. When these women aren’t pregnant, this condition doesn’t cause a problem. During pregnancy, the large amount of pregnancy hormones in the body can exacerbate this condition and cause a slowing down of bile flow. There may also be environmental factors that contribute to creating this condition.

How is Cholestasis of Pregnancy Treated?

A doctor should monitor an expectant mother’s bile levels and liver function with blood testing. If the cholestasis is bad, then he or she can prescribe medication that can break up the concentration of bile acids.

Women can also do a lot of at-home remedies for cholestasis. For instance, milk thistle and dandelion root are both beneficial substances for liver function. Taking cool baths or showers and using aloe can reduce the itchiness.  The symptoms of cholestasis should go away a few days after a mother has delivered her baby.

Cholestasis of Pregnancy Prevention

There is no way for all women who develop this condition during pregnancy to prevent it. Promoting the health of the liver and avoiding substances that can damage it are the best ways to avoid this condition.

It has been shown that women who use drugs develop this condition more often. That makes it imperative for pregnant women to avoid using intravenous drugs. Avoiding dirty needles that are shared among drug users is one way to prevent an infection that can lead to this condition. Drinking alcohol is also a risk factor. Women should avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy to reduce the risks. For women who become infected with hepatitis A and/or B, the damage that can be caused to the liver by these infections can cause this condition. Before becoming pregnant, women should be vaccinated against both of these hepatitis strains. This will promote better health of the liver and can help patents to avoid developing cholestasis.

Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
June 08, 2018