Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy

Clin Liver Dis. 1999 Aug;3(3):603-32. doi: 10.1016/s1089-3261(05)70087-8.


Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is one of the primary disorders of the liver that adversely affects maternal well-being and fetal outcome. Early identification of this condition, careful interdisciplinary monitoring, and prompt delivery at fetal maturity can improve outcomes in the mother and child. Although the cause is unclear, IHCP probably arises from a genetic predisposition for increased sensitivity to estrogens and progestogens and altered membrane composition and expression of bile ducts, hepatocytes, and canalicular transport systems. As a result, the elevations in maternal levels of bile acids and their molar ratios seen in healthy pregnancy rise further in IHCP patients. Also, as the normal fetal-to-maternal transfer of bile acids across the trophoblast is impaired, the excess bile acids with abnormal profiles accumulate and are toxic to the fetus. The management of IHCP is dictated by the increased risks of fetal distress, spontaneous preterm delivery, and sudden death, as well as by alleviating pruritus in the mother. These risks to the fetus rise progressively to delivery, regardless of serum levels of bile acids and ALT. Close monitoring of these markers is essential but does not prevent sudden fetal distress and death. Provision should be made to induce labor as soon as fetal lung maturity has been established. Ursodeoxycholic acid is the only therapy that has proven effective, albeit in small studies, in alleviating pruritus and restoring towards normal the abnormal profiles of bile acids and sulfated steroids in serum and other body fluids. Ursodeoxycholic acid seems to have no obvious adverse effects on the fetus, but experience is insufficient to draw conclusions regarding teratogenicity and prevention of adverse outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile Acids and Salts / physiology
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology
  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic / diagnosis
  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic / etiology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins*
  • Placenta / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*
  • Progesterone / physiology


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Estrogens
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • bile acid binding proteins
  • Progesterone
  • Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases
  • AKR1C2 protein, human