Previously know as Obstetric Cholestasis, learn more about the symptoms and causes of this rare pregnancy complication…
Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP), previously known as Obstetric Cholestasis, affects the liver and is said to develop when women become oversensitive to pregnancy hormones.
The exact cause is not fully understood but involves familial, hormonal and environmental factors. Women may have genetic abnormalities that affect bile acid level-influencing proteins.
Bile, produced in the liver, normally helps you digest food by flowing into the intestines. If you have ICP, the flow of bile into the intestines slows down, causing bile salts to build up in your blood.
Itching: this can occur all over the body, but is usually on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and worse at night. This is not always just mild irritation – sometimes it can be so bad that you can’t stop yourself from scratching it.
‘When the itching starts, it can be hard to sleep, but you don’t get a rash like you would with a normal skin condition,’ says Henry Annan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
‘The condition will be diagnosed by a blood test and you may be given drugs to help improve liver function. Your baby will be delivered at 38 weeks. Within a week or so of giving birth, the symptoms clear: there are no long-term problems with the liver.
‘To cope with the itching, stay in cool temperatures and don’t use too many bedclothes – that will make you hot and the itching worse. Calamine lotion can sometimes help to soothe the itching. Unfortunately, the condition can recur in a second pregnancy.’
‘I had Intrahepatic Cholestasis in both my pregnancies,’ says Claire Walker, 31, mum to Thomas, two, and Charlotte, six weeks.
‘During my second pregnancy, I started to itch at 32 weeks. I was waiting for it, as I had been told that it was likely to reoccur. I made a midwife appointment, had a blood test and was told they’d let me know the result, but I had to chase it up myself. The doctor phoned me back and said I had to go straight to hospital as I had OC. I panicked, even though I’d had it before, as it can be so dangerous for the baby. I was put on medication, which quickly helped, and from then on I had to go to the hospital several times a week for blood tests and to monitor the baby’s heartbeat.
‘I ended up having an elective Caesarean at 38 weeks and my baby was fine, thankfully. It was much better handled this time – with Thomas I had an emergency Caesarean at 35 weeks and he ended up in special care for the first two weeks of his life.
‘My advice would be that if you experience any itching, get it checked out by your GP as it could be serious. I had a battle to be taken seriously.’
For more information on the complication, visit ICP Support.
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk