When Does Itching Signify Danger?

During the third trimester of my first pregnancy, the soles of my feet began to itch. In frustration, I would rub my bare feet over the claw feet of our dining room table during meals. I scrubbed them over bristling carpet. Finally, my husband bought me a foot massage tool that I could rub my feet over, offering some relief from the relentless itch.

I consulted my pregnancy books, which told me itching during pregnancy was normal. Dry skin, various rashes. Just another one of the many weird side effects of pregnancy. Labor was induced at 38 weeks due to pre-eclampsia, and I delivered a healthy, baby boy.

My second full-term pregnancy passed with nary an itch.

During my third full-term pregnancy, the itching came at night. On my hands and on my soles.

About Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy
I’d experienced some intense nighttime itching in the past due to a reaction I have to certain insect bites, but nothing like this.

The itching woke me as I scratched and rubbed against any surface that had the potential to offer relief. I tried sticking my hands in the freezer or clutching ice packs. I’d always thought of an itch as an annoyance, but this itch was so intense and relentless, I would have gladly traded it for pain.

I reported my symptoms to a nurse/midwife at my ob/gyn practice, and she immediately suspected Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP) and sent me for blood work. My bile acids indicated that, yes, I had ICP.

According to ICP Care, “Often, the only symptom noticed is itching. The itching can vary from person to person on the palms of hands, arms, legs, soles of feet or all-over itching. ICP carries an increased risk of fetal distress, meconium staining, spontaneous preterm labor, respiratory distress and stillbirth.”

My first official little itch, a girl. (Sept. 2011)

My first official little itch, a girl. (Sept. 2011)

You can read a comprehensive overview of ICP, but in a nutshell, it’s a liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy. In the United States, 1-2 of every 1,000 pregnancies is affected by ICP. I had relatively mild cases and was treated with medication and early induction of labor in both my third and fourth full-term pregnancies. (ICP is likely to recur.)

ICP is nothing to be trifled with. I’m blessed that my doctors,  nurses, and midwives quickly identified my problem and treated it appropriately. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. I’m astounded to read the stories of other moms who have complained to their medical practitioners only to have their concerns dismissed or minimized, even when they go with printed information on ICP in hand.

My second official little itch, a boy. (Feb. 2013)

My second official little itch, a boy. (Feb. 2013)

If you experience unexplained itching during pregnancy, consult your doctor. If you know a woman suffering with it, let her know about ICP. The ICP Care website and its Facebook group are a wonderful source of support and information for pregnant women suffering with ICP.

Don’t ignore the itch. Your baby’s life could depend on it.

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2 thoughts on “When Does Itching Signify Danger?

  1. Great article! I had NO IDEA. Excellent that your medical team listened to you and got that taken care of.

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