Itching During Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know About ICP

pregnant bellyWhen is an itch not just an itch? When you're pregnant. An expecting mom with a severe itch found out the hard way that the unusual symptom can actually mean your unborn baby is at risk. When Magdalen Reece developed a severe itch around her abdomen at 35 weeks, she mentioned it to her midwife. She was told that itching was a normal part of skin stretching over a growing belly, and it is. But in Reece's case, it was a sign of something much more dangerous. Three weeks later, when her water broke, her baby was already dead.

Those of us who've been pregnant are all too familiar with that mild abdominal itch. All you do is moisturize a little more and that usually takes care of it. But it turns out the more severe itch Reece had was a sign of a pregnancy-related disease called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). What is this disease, and what can you do about it?


What is it? ICP is a liver disorder. Basically, your bile (a digestive fluid) stops flowing the right way and the acids build up in your blood.

What are the symptoms? The severe itch Reece experienced is one symptom. You may feel it all over, but it's most commonly felt on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Another symptom is jaundice, when your skin and sometimes the whites of your eyes take on a yellowish hue. Tell your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms, and they can do a blood test to find out if you have ICP.

How does it affect you and your baby? Aside from the jaundice, discomfort, and even sleeplessness for the mother, ICP can lead to premature birth and other health issues, long-term disabilities for the baby, and even stillbirth.

Can you prevent it? Doctors still don't know what causes ICP, so no, not really. For now, just rely on the usual advice of living the most healthy lifestyle you possibly can.

How can it be treated? A drug called Actigall can relieve itching and restore normal liver functioning. Your care provider will also want to monitor you and your baby more closely.

Have you ever heard of ICP -- or remember having a severe itch during pregnancy?

Image via Naomi/Flickr

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