Many women become overly concerned about itching and worry that there is something more serious happening. Fortunately, with today’s early prenatal care and access to excellent medical information, most women are able to turn to their personal physician for help earlier than ever before.
There are some situations that may warrant an unscheduled call to the doctor when it comes to itching during pregnancy. Obstetric cholestasis (OC) is a condition which affects the liver. Some women have a heightened sensitivity to pregnancy hormones and that may cause this problem with the liver.
Before assuming that itching during pregnancy is more serious, always contact a personal physician. OC only affects about seven in every 1,000 pregnant women in the United States each year so it is considered rare.
How Does it Start?
OC usually begins during the third trimester of pregnancy because this is when pregnancy hormones are typically at their highest point. Although the third trimester is the usual point of symptom onset, some women may experience symptoms as early as the first trimester.
Itching is usually mild at first and continues to become more aggravating as it progresses throughout the pregnancy. It can even become so uncomfortable that it interferes with a woman’s ability to sleep or participate in normal daily activities.
Itching is primarily felt on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, although some women report itching elsewhere. A very small percentage of women with OC may experience jaundice but this is rare occurring in only about 20% of those diagnosed with the condition.
Some of the symptoms typically presenting with this diagnosis include:
- unusual fatigue
- dark urine
- pale stools
- loss of appetite
- mild depression
The presence of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that OC is the problem. There are other pregnancy related conditions to also be considered.
The risks to unborn babies vary, so it is essential to be properly diagnosed and treated by a qualified healthcare provider. Since OC can possibly lead to premature birth, bleeding, or fetal distress, it’s essential to consult a doctor if there is any indication of this problem.
Doctors can conduct a variety of tests including a bile acid test and liver function test for a proper diagnosis. Only a doctor should diagnose this condition.
Treatment for OC is usually a combination of medications and vitamins. Medications have proven to be very effective for most women and vitamin K may also be prescribed by a physician. Doctors typically monitor pregnant women closely to monitor the pregnancy and make any adjustments in care as needed. Since any medication can affect the unborn baby, it’s essential to have a doctor’s recommendation before self-administering any medications.
The good news is that OC resolves itself shortly after delivery. Most women improve within a month after delivery, but there is a 70-90% risk of recurrence with subsequent pregnancies. There are some exceptions to this rule but they are rare.
As with any condition, especially during pregnancy, only a doctor or other qualified healthcare provider should diagnose or treat any medical condition. It is important to seek early and consistent prenatal care throughout pregnancy and beyond. Taking the best care of herself and the unborn baby is the responsibility for every pregnant woman.