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Causes of Itchy Skin During Pregnancy

by
author image Sarah Harding
Sarah Harding has written stacks of research articles dating back to 2000. She has consulted in various settings and taught courses focused on psychology. Her work has been published by ParentDish, Atkins and other clients. Harding holds a Master of Science in psychology from Capella University and is completing several certificates through the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association.
Causes of Itchy Skin During Pregnancy
Doctor checking up on a pregnant woman's stomach. Photo Credit Dangubic/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

Pregnancy is a time of many changes for women, including skin changes. Some women may develop acne, while others experience a reduction in blemishes during pregnancy. Itchy skin is a common complaint during pregnancy. Treatment options depend on the cause of the itching, which usually resolves itself once the baby is delivered.

General Rashes

Any number of rashes can develop during pregnancy. Some are harmless, itchy red bumps that appear on the belly. Some women sweat more during pregnancy because hormones affect the sweat glands. This can increase the likelihood of developing rashes, such as a heat rash. A rash accompanied by any other symptoms, such as wheezing, can be a sign of an allergic reaction and should be treated by a medical professional immediately.

High Estrogen Levels

Estrogen levels increase during pregnancy, which can lead to the palms becoming red and itchy. Sometimes this can affect the soles of the feet as well. Estrogen levels return to normal soon after delivery, and the redness fades from the palms.

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Stretching

When the skin on your abdomen stretches because of the growing baby, it may also feel itchy. The skin surrounding the breasts may also be affected by stretching. The glands of the skin produce oils naturally to help maintain moisture. When the skin stretches during pregnancy, oil production may slow down. The result can be visible dryness, stretch marks and itching. Scratching dry skin can irritate it further. BabyCenter.com suggests using a thick body cream to soothe dry skin.

PUPPP

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPPP, is an uncomfortable rash associated with pregnancy. BabyCenter.com reports that about 1 percent of pregnant women experience this condition, which is characterized by itchy, red bumps and sometimes large patches of irritated skin on the belly. This condition occurs in the third trimester and is most common in women pregnant with twins or first babies. PUPPP can be extremely uncomfortable and spread to the thighs, arms and buttocks. It is harmless and can be treated with a topical ointment, usually consisting of a steroid. PUPPP usually resolves several days to several weeks after delivery.

Pemphigoid Gestationis

Pemphigoid gestationis, also called herpes gestationis, is a very rare skin condition that occurs during pregnancy. It is characterized by itchy lesions on the skin that appear first as hives and eventually appear as blisters. The blistering usually starts on the abdomen and spreads to the arms or legs. Pemphigoid gestationis is not associated with the herpes virus, but it is a more serious condition. It can be associated with an increased risk of preterm delivery and fetal growth problems. BabyCenter.com says it most often occurs in the second or third trimester, but can appear at any time during pregnancy.

Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy

Severe itching of the skin in the second or third trimester can be a sign of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. This liver problem affects fewer than 1 percent of pregnant women in the United States. It occurs when bile doesn't flow normally through the small ducts of the liver. This causes salts to accumulate on the surface of the skin, producing itching. Scratching the skin leads to redness and sometimes scratches, but the condition does not cause a visible rash.

Other Causes

Women who suffer from allergies, eczema and other skin conditions that cause itching may experience an exacerbation of symptoms during pregnancy. Treatment of such itching is usually the same as when a woman is not pregnant, with a few exceptions because some medications that are not safe for use during pregnancy.

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References

Demand Media