Liver Pain During Pregnancy


Authored by Nickie Fleming in Diseases 
Published on 06-21-2009

During pregnancy some women may experience pain in their liver. This can go from mild to severe.

A condition named preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related blood circulation problem that causes high blood pressure and may affect the mother’s liver. It will commonly occur during a first pregnancy.

The signs of preeclampsia include elevated blood pressure, persistent headaches, problems with vision and pain in the upper right abdomen (e.g. the liver).

Preeclampsia can develop gradually or occur suddenly. It may remain mild or become severe. If it stays untreated, it may affect the mother’s liver and kidneys. It will also deprive the fetus of oxygen and cause maternal seizures. A woman who shows signs of preeclampsia should be closely monitored by her doctor or midwife. The condition can be treated with bed rest and medication. But the only true ‘cure’ for preeclampsia is the delivery of the baby. Within the first days following on the delivery, the mother’s blood pressure usually returns to normal. When the case is severe, it may take at least six weeks for blood pressure to return to normal.

As mentioned above, untreated preeclampsia may cause seizures. These can be life-threatening for both mother and baby. During an attack, the oxygen supply to the fetus is drastically reduced. You must immediately call 911 when a pregnant woman has a seizure.

About one percent of pregnant women can be affected by ICP, a pregnancy-related liver disorder that is very uncomfortable and can also hurt the baby. ICP causes abnormalities in the flow of bile (a substance produced by the liver that aids the digestion and absorbs fats). This leads up to a build-up of bile acids in the blood. The first symptoms will occur in the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. The causes of ICP are not yet well understood. Hormones and heredity appear to play a role, though. ICP will appear more commonly in twin (or multiple) pregnancies. About half of the women with ICP have a family history of related liver disorders.

One of the symptoms of ICP is skin itching. This itching will often occur in the palm of the hands and soles of the feet, but some women have it all over their body. It can get progressively worse and may interfere with sleep and daily activities.

Another symptom is jaundice. This is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes and it will occur in ten to twenty percent of the women with ICP. Jaundice is caused by a build-up of a chemical in the blood, which results from the liver disorder and decreased bile flow.

ICP will mostly be treated with medication, to relieve the itching of the skin and to correct the liver function. Treatment will also prevent stillbirth. Doctors and midwives will closely monitor the fetus with ultrasound and tests that measure heart rate. If the baby is having difficulties, an early delivery may be recommended. The doctor can see if the baby has mature lungs, with a test called amniocentesis. If the baby’s lungs are mature enough, delivery can be set in at 36 to 38 weeks to prevent stillbirth.


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