Health Alert: Severe itching can reveal serious disorder in pregnant women

NATIONAL (NBC) - Itchy skin is a fairly common during pregnancy. It's typically mild and far less of a problem than some of pregnancy's other side effects, but as many as seven of every 1,000 pregnant women in the US will develop a condition that produces severe skin irritation, according to the March of Dimes. The condition can be fatal to the unborn child.

Mary and Rich Pokrywka will soon welcome a new son, Joseph. He'll be an early arrival, because Mary started itching.

It started the day before Easter, intense and localized to the bottoms of her feet and palms of her hands.

"All you could do is rub the hands as hard as you can but it never seemed to go away," said Mary.

Mary couldn't find an explanation in her pregnancy book, but she feared the itching was serious.

"Those who are just being told itching's a part of pregnancy...for some it may be, but this type of itching, when it's your feet, your legs, your arms, your hands - that's not normal."

It's called obstetric cholestasis, a liver condition in which the normal flow of bile is impaired.

Acid enters the blood stream and causes itching, but that's not all.

"This isn't harmless when you know there's a possibility that your baby could be born stillborn. That's not harmless," explained Mary.

Symptoms usually appear within the third trimester and the easiest way to find it is with a blood test.

"But because the test is negative doesn't mean you don't have the problem it can be up to fifteen weeks after the onset of symptoms that the serum bile acids begin to go up," warned Dr. Tom Zarlingo.

Mary's monitored twice a week with blood tests, non-stress fetal exams, medications, and regular ultrasounds of her baby and liver.

The only cure is to deliver Joseph a couple weeks early.

It's important to remember most itching is common during pregnancy, but if you have uncontrollable itch that's localized, you may want to contact your doctor.

Posted by Bryce Mursch