A prospective study was undertaken to evaluate fat malabsorption during intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), a disease characterized by a mild cholestasis of short duration appearing in otherwise healthy young women. An abnormal fecal fat excretion (mean 15.8 g/24 h, range 6-31 g/24 h) was demonstrated in 10 of 12 patients with the icteric form of ICP and in 2 of 11 patients with pruritus gravidarum. The increased fecal fat excretion was generally asymptomatic, could be detected as early as 3 wk after the clinical onset of ICP, remained stable during the affected pregnancies, and returned to normal from 3 to 9 wk after delivery. Steatorrhea correlated with the severity of ICP, estimated by serum levels of bilirubin, total bile salts, and glutamic pyruvic transaminase. A significant fall in the maternal weight/height index was detected after the onset of ICP, being more intense in patients with steatorrhea than in those without it (to 92.6% +/- 3.0% of initial values versus 96.7% +/- 2.8%, respectively; p less than 0.05). A high risk of premature deliveries and fetal distress was demonstrated in these patients, also correlating with the severity of ICP. No direct relationship could be established between steatorrhea or maternal nutritional impairment and fetal prognosis.