Obstetric Cholestasis

Obstetric cholestasis is defined as a blockage in the normal flow of bile during pregnancy.

Obstetric cholestasis only ever happens when you are pregnant, but it is rare. It happens because of a problem that can occur with the way the liver works during pregnancy. It is also sometimes called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) and this name is being used more often these days.

What is it?

'Obstetric' means the area of medicine that is about pregnant women. 'Cholestasis' means there is a slowing down of the flow of bile down the bile ducts in the liver. This slowing of the flow of bile leads to a build-up of bile and some then leaks out into the bloodstream - in particular, the bile salts. Once in the bloodstream they can make your skin very itchy.

Who gets it?

Obstetric cholestasis is a rare condition that only affects you if you are pregnant. In the UK less than 1 in a hundred pregnant women will develop obstetric cholestasis. It is more common if you are related to someone who has had it in the past - for example, your mother or sister. It is also more common if you are from certain ethnic groups, such as South Asians and Araucanian Indians.

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  • Obstetric Cholestasis; Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (May 2011)
  • Gurung V, Middleton P, Milan SJ, et al; Interventions for treating cholestasis in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 24 6:CD000493. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000493.pub2.
  • Lee NM, Brady CW; Liver disease in pregnancy. World J Gastroenterol. 2009 Feb 28 15(8):897-906.
  • Williamson C, Geenes V; Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Jul 124(1):120-33. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000000346.
  • Kong X, Kong Y, Zhang F, et al; Evaluating the effectiveness and safety of ursodeoxycholic acid in treatment of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy: A meta-analysis (a prisma-compliant study). Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 Oct 95(40):e4949.
Dr Jacqueline Payne
Peer Reviewer:
Miss Shalini Patni
Document ID:
4401 (v43)
Last Checked:
01 July 2017
Next Review:
30 June 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.