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Itchy belly? You're not alone. It's very common during pregnancy and happens because your skin's being stretched to accommodate your lovely bundle of joy (and all those cakes you may be scoffing), and is getting more blood to it than usual.
But despite its ubiquity during pregnancy, itchy skin needs to be checked by your GP or midwife. It can sometimes be a symptom of obstetric cholestasis, or ICP, a liver condition that may increase the risk of foetal distress and premature birth.
What causes cholestasis?
In normal liver function, bile salts go from your liver to your gut to help you digest food. If this doesn't happen properly, the bile salts build up in your body. During pregnancy, this is known as obstetric cholestasis or ICP.
It appears to run in families, although women who have no known family history can still develop it. If you've had it in a previous pregnancy, depressingly it's more likely to develop again in any subsequent pregnancy. And it's more common in Asian women of Indian and Pakistani origin.
What are the symptoms?
Unlike normal pregnancy itching, cholestasis can be quite unbearable, often making the palms of your hands and soles of your feet itch intensely, particularly at night, and this can spread up your arms and legs. Some women don't have any rash, while others get quite a severe one.
It usually occurs in the second or third trimester and is diagnosed by blood tests that check your liver function.
There's no cure for obstetric cholestasis, but mercifully it does end once you've had your baby.
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