This condition may also be referred to as obstetric cholestasis, pregnancy-related cholestasis or recurrent intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.
What is Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is a liver disorder that occurs in pregnant women. Cholestasis is a condition that impairs the release of a digestive fluid called bile from liver cells. As a result, bile builds up in the liver, impairing liver function. Because the problems with bile release occur within the liver (intrahepatic), the condition is described as intrahepatic cholestasis.
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy usually becomes apparent in the third trimester of pregnancy. Bile flow returns to normal after delivery of the baby, and the signs and symptoms of the condition disappear. However, they can return during later pregnancies..
This condition causes severe itchiness (pruritus) in the expectant mother. The itchiness usually begins on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet and then spreads to other parts of the body. Occasionally, affected women have yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice). Some studies have shown that women with intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy are more likely to develop gallstones sometime in their life than women who do not have the condition.
Who is affected by ICP
Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is estimated to affect 1 percent of women of Northern European ancestry. The condition is more common in certain populations, such as women of Araucanian Indian ancestry in Chile or women of Scandinavian ancestry. This condition is found less frequently in other populations.
From a genetic point of view susceptibility to intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to increase the risk of developing the disorder. Some women with an altered gene do not develop intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Many other factors likely contribute to the risk of developing this complex disorder.
Cholestasis can also occur in individuals that are not pregnant and can be triggered by medication, tubercolosis, metastic cancers and other factors. You may experience some, all or none of the symptoms listed below.
Symptoms may include:
- Clay-colored or white stools
- Dark urine
- Inability to digest certain foods
- Itching (Particularly in preganancy)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the right upper part of the abdomen
- Yellow skin or eyes
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will request blood tests to check if you have elevated bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase levels. In addition, doctors can make use of any of the following diagnostic techniques
- CT scan of the abdomen
- MRI of the abdomen
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), can also determine cause
- Ultrasound of the abdomen
The underling cause of the cholestasis will be treated. If you are pregnant, the condition usually resolves on its own after you’ve given birth. Risk factors are described above and the doctor will carefully monitor your unborn child’s health, in some instances recommend pre-term delivery to reduce risk to you and your child.