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Cholestasis of pregnancy is a liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy

Cholestasis of pregnancy is a liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy

Cholestasis of pregnancy is a liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy

Mar 02, 2024

Cholestasis of pregnancy is a liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy, affecting the normal flow of bile. Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver, and cholestasis occurs when there is a reduction or stoppage of bile flow. This condition is more common in the second and early third trimester of pregnancy.

The two main types of cholestasis in pregnancy are intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) and obstetric cholestasis.

  1. Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP):
    • This type of cholestasis affects the liver cells and interferes with the normal secretion of bile.
    • Symptoms typically manifest in the second and  third trimester.
    • Common symptoms include severe itching, especially on the hands and feet, and dark urine.
    • Elevated levels of bile acids and liver enzymes may be present in blood tests.
  2. Obstetric Cholestasis:
    • Obstetric cholestasis is a broader term that includes any condition causing cholestasis during pregnancy.

Some potential precursors or risk factors for intrahepatic cholestasis may include:

  1. Genetic Factors: Some forms of intrahepatic cholestasis may have a genetic component. Certain genetic mutations can predispose individuals to liver diseases affecting bile flow.
  2. Hormonal Changes: Pregnancy-related intrahepatic cholestasis, also known as obstetric cholestasis, is a specific type of cholestasis that occurs during pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, especially elevated levels of oestrogen, are thought to contribute to this condition.
  3. Liver Diseases: Pre-existing liver conditions, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, can increase the risk of intrahepatic cholestasis.
  4. Medications: Certain medications may contribute to cholestasis as a side effect. These can include anabolic steroids, oral contraceptives, and certain antibiotics.
  5. Gallbladder Issues: Disorders affecting the gallbladder or bile ducts can impact bile flow and potentially lead to intrahepatic cholestasis.
  6. Autoimmune Conditions: Autoimmune liver diseases, such as primary biliary cirrhosis and autoimmune hepatitis, can affect bile flow and contribute to cholestasis.
  7. Metabolic Disorders: Some metabolic disorders, like progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC), can lead to intrahepatic cholestasis.

Complications of cholestasis in pregnancy include an increased risk of preterm birth and  foetal distress. There is also an association with an increased risk of meconium staining of amniotic fluid. Severe cases may lead to adverse outcomes for both the mother and the baby.

Management and treatment may involve relieving symptoms, monitoring liver function, and managing potential complications. Medications such as ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) are commonly used to reduce itching and improve liver function. In some cases, early delivery may be considered to reduce the risks associated with cholestasis.

Bile acid evaluation is a crucial aspect of diagnosing and monitoring intrahepatic cholestasis.

  1. Bile Acids and their Role:
    • Bile acids are essential components of bile, a fluid produced by the liver to aid in the digestion and absorption of fats in the small intestine.They are normally secreted by the liver into the bile ducts and stored in the gallbladder. Blood tests are commonly used to measure the levels of bile acids in the serum. Elevated serum bile acid levels are indicative of intrahepatic cholestasis. . This includes both conjugated and unconjugated bile acids. their elevation may be particularly relevant in assessing the severity of cholestasis.

Measuring bile acids are crucial for assessing the severity of cholestasis and guiding clinical management. The primary bile acids involved in cholestasis are cholic acid and chenodeoxycholic acid.

  1. Individual Bile Acid Quantification:
    • In some cases, individual bile acids, such as cholic acid and chenodeoxycholic acid, may be quantified separately to provide a more detailed understanding of the bile acid profile.
  2. Fractionated Bile Acid Analysis:
    • Fractionation of bile acids may be performed to separate different types of bile acids and identify specific abnormalities in the bile acid composition. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and mass spectrometry are commonly used for this purpose.
  3. Fasting vs. Postprandial Samples:
    • Bile acid levels may vary in response to meals. Fasting samples are often collected, but postprandial samples may also be considered to capture the dynamic changes in bile acid concentrations.
  4. Regular Monitoring:
    • Monitoring bile acid levels over time is important to assess the progression of cholestasis and the effectiveness of interventions. This is especially crucial for managing the pregnancy and avoiding complications for both the mother and the baby.

Role of Lactate dehydrogenase measurement.

Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) is an enzyme present in various tissues, including the liver. Elevated levels of LDH can be observed in liver diseases, including cholestasis..

LDH is not a specific marker for cholestasis, but its elevation can be indicative of liver cell damage. When assessing cholestasis, healthcare professionals typically use a combination of liver function tests and imaging studies. Specific markers for cholestasis include alkaline phosphatase (ALP), gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), and bilirubin.

If LDH levels are elevated along with other liver function markers and clinical symptoms, it may suggest liver dysfunction, including cholestasis. However, LDH alone may not provide a definitive diagnosis for cholestasis. Additional tests and evaluations, such as imaging studies like ultrasound, or MRI, may be necessary to confirm the presence and cause of cholestasis.                                                                        


Proteinuria, which is the presence of excess proteins in the urine, is not typically associated with cholestasis of pregnancy.                                                                                          

To sum-up Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy increases the risk of preterm delivery and foetal distress and maternal morbidity .Early detection and management of symptoms help in saving the baby and mother. If you suspect you have symptoms of cholestasis during pregnancy, it is crucial to seek prompt medical attention. Your healthcare provider can conduct appropriate tests and provide guidance on management and monitoring to ensure the best possible outcome for both you and your baby.


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