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Cholestasis - A bile blockage occurring during pregnancy that's dangerous if untreated

Updated on December 12, 2011

Cholestasis is really a blanket term that describes any blockage of bile from the liver. It can come from bile duct tumors, pancreatitis, alcoholism, lymphoma, etc. (The list goes on and on.) This condition can creep up on women during pregnancy, even those who have never before had a bile condition.

What about pregnancy can cause cholestasis? The hormones that your body is now filled with, (yes, the same ones that make you cry for no reason, and tear your husband’s head off the very next second) are causing the bile flow from the gallbladder to slow down. In turn, this causes the liver to have a build-up of bile. Once the liver has reached its bile holding capacity, it has no choice but to let the bile release into the bloodstream.

Are you likely to develop cholestasis? It depends. Cholestasis is not extremely common, affecting only about 1-2 pregnancies in 1,000. Your chances increase if your mother and/or sister developed it during their pregnancies, and if you are carrying multiples.

How do you know if you have cholestasis? The most common and chief complaint of women suffering from the condition is extreme itching, mostly in the hands and feet. This is usually not reported until the third trimester. Some less common symptoms include loss of appetite, depression, light coloring of your bowel movements, and dark urine. Call your doctor if you experience these symptoms. He may want you to come in and get some testing.

What are the risks to the unborn child? Since your baby relies on your liver to remove the bile acids from the blood, this condition can cause some severe risks. Preterm labor, fetal distress and stillbirth can occur. Since there is no treatment to cure the bile back-up that is considered safe for the fetus, your doctor will probably only prescribe you something to help with the itching, such as a topical cream. The condition will usually go away once you deliver. If your condition is bad enough, you may have to be induced once the baby’s lungs are developed, to avoid the serious risk of still-birth.

Here are some more articles on other pregnancy related health issues and complications...

Dizziness --

Nose bleeds --

Three very common pregnancy complications --


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