Pregnancy can be an exciting time, but it’s also completely understandable to be daunted by all the changes happening inside your body. These changes can sometimes be linked to a number of pregnancy-specific conditions, such as cholestasis of pregnancy. You might already have heard of this condition, which is also sometimes also called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (or ICP for short).
ICP is the most common liver disease in pregnancy, but the condition itself is pretty rare. It only affects around 0.2% to 2% of pregnancies. If you have ICP, you’re likely to know about it, as it can cause intensely itchy skin without a rash, usually on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. That isn’t fun for anyone, although thankfully, the treatment for this itching is usually relatively straightforward, so you should be able to get some much-needed relief.
The condition can also potentially cause some complications for both you and your baby. While this sounds scary, remember that the condition is uncommon, and there are treatment options available. Keep reading to learn how to spot cholestasis of pregnancy symptoms, as well as its causes and treatment.
What causes cholestasis of pregnancy?
Before we dive into the causes of cholestasis of pregnancy, let’s first take a look at what it does to your body. Prepare for a mini science lesson. The condition begins when the flow of bile — a digestive fluid that carries away waste and breaks down fats during digestion — slows down. Bile is produced in the liver and flows into the gallbladder, but cholestasis causes a buildup of bile acids in the liver, which then enter the bloodstream. While this can be worrying to think about, keep in mind that cholestasis of pregnancy is rare and can often be treated with medication — without causing problems for your baby.
So what causes it? While scientists haven’t quite pinned down the answer to that just yet, it’s likely to “involve a combination of genetic susceptibility, hormonal factors, and environmental factors,” explains Dr. Nazaneen Homaifar, an obstetrician and gynecologist, Washington, DC, US.
While it’s possible that pregnancy hormones could play a role in its development, the exact reason why cholestasis can happen in pregnancy is still a bit of a mystery. It’s thought that the high levels of estrogen during pregnancy might affect the way the liver processes bile acids, which could lead people with certain combinations of genes to develop ICP.
You also have a greater risk of cholestasis of pregnancy if you have a history of liver damage or gallstones, or have had cholestasis in a previous pregnancy. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor, but try not to worry too much about this. They will investigate and be able to give you further advice.