Pregnancy comes with a lot of risks. There’s the risk of accidents, falling over, risk of food poisoning due to a lower immune system, and worst of all, risk of miscarriage. There’s also the risk of illness in different organs, due to the body’s resistance being a little too weak to keep up. When one of your organs gets attacked with an illness, it is felt throughout the body, the attack rippling through all of the other bodily systems. What would happen in case your liver is the one affected?
In this article, we’ll explore such an illness called Cholestasis, a liver infection. We will delve deep into the facts: what it is, what causes it, its symptoms, and how to treat it. Read on, and always stay safe!
What is cholestasis?
Cholestasis of pregnancy is an illness that develops in the liver. This is when the travel of bile from the gallbladder is slowed down or blocked. When this happens, itching and yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes (or jaundice) occurs. Cholestasis of pregnancy may happen in early pregnancy but is more common during the second or third trimester. It goes away soon after birth but is not to be snubbed or left alone, as this illness can cause damage to the growing baby’s development.
What happens during cholestasis is that the bile that the liver produces is stopped or slowed down on its way to the gallbladder. The body releases an abundance in new hormones when pregnant, so these hormones alter the travel of the bile. Keep in mind that bile helps break down the fats and protein in the digestive process, so it is very acidic. When the bile stays in one place for too long, it spills and seeps into the bloodstream.
What are the symptoms of cholestasis in pregnancy?
The main symptom of cholestasis in pregnancy is severe irritation and itchiness (pruritus). This can take place in several parts of the body, but mainly on the palms and soles of the feet. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, lightened color of stools, and jaundice.
It’s important to keep an eye on yourself while pregnant, so you can easily notice these symptoms. Cholestasis isn’t too severe, but it can cause complications in pregnancy, so it’s safer to err on the safe side once you spot any of the symptoms. Do not rely on just the internet and go to a trusted healthcare professional afterward.
What are the complications?
If left unchecked, cholestasis in pregnancy can lead to worse complications that might affect not just your health, but of your baby’s as well. The complications are:
- Respiratory problems. Once born, your baby might have trouble breathing.
- Vitamin K deficiency, This will cause excessive bleeding on your end.
- Meconium in amniotic fluid. Your baby will have an unexpected bowel movement before birth, making it hard for them to breathe.
- Fetal distress. This indicates that your baby might not be doing too well inside (e.g: not getting enough oxygen, etc.)
- Preterm birth. Cholestasis in pregnancy puts you at a higher risk of giving birth before you’re even due.
Given the signs and symptoms of cholestasis in pregnancy, remember to call your healthcare provider once you notice something is awry because one can never be too sure, especially when there is a baby involved.
Cholestasis in pregnancy: diagnosis and treatment
You will be given certain lab tests once your doctor thinks you have cholestasis. Some of these tests include a liver function test, which means your blood will be subjected to testing to see just how high your bile acid levels are. Another test is taking your prothrombin time. This will check just how well and how fast your blood can clot. Other tests include an ultrasound of your bile ducts.
The main goal of treating cholestasis is to alleviate the itchiness of the skin and to prevent further damage and complications. The treatments include:
- Medicine. This is given to help with the itching, and to keep bile levels low.
- Fetal monitoring. Your doctor will check the overall health of your baby to see if the cholestasis has affected them and their development.
- Measuring serum total bile acid. The bile in your body will be tested and measured to see just how much treatment is needed and appropriate.
- Early delivery. This is the more major treatment, due to the amount of risk your baby is facing because of cholestasis. Doing so will lessen the risk of cholestasis on your baby. Labor will be induced as per the order of your healthcare provider, based on your health, test results, bile levels, body history, and pregnancy history. The delivery may be either vaginal or cesarean. This is usually only done when you are 37 to 38 weeks into pregnancy.
Having cholestasis is an unpredictable predicament because of the varying levels of bile that different women have. The higher your bile levels, the more drastic the steps and treatment will be, so always be wary of some itchiness you may feel at the beginning.
“I have cholestasis. What do I do now?”
An easy way to go about solving this problem is to ask as many questions as possible. Upon finding out that you have cholestasis in pregnancy, research as much as you can, and write down the questions you may have about it for your doctor on your next hospital visit. Bring someone else with you on your hospital visit as well. Doing so can help you jog your memory of certain details you may have missed, like what your symptoms are, or your pregnancy history. It can also be a source of moral support.
At the visit, make sure to write down and take note of whatever the doctor says you should watch out for, take, and do regarding cholestasis. It’s best to know as much as possible about the new prescriptions of medicine given to you, what your test results say and mean, and the possible side effects are. Ask if your condition can be treated in different ways. Always keep their contact information handy for questions like when the next follow-up appointment is.