Signs and symptoms of jaundice during pregnancy

Written by laura rico
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Signs and symptoms of jaundice during pregnancy
Although rare, pregnant women can develop jaundice. (pregnant #3 image by Adam Borkowski from

Jaundice is not a disease but a symptom of liver dysfunction. It is not a common disorder in pregnant women with no previous liver problems although it can occur if the woman develops cholestasis of pregnancy, pre-eclampsia or an acute fatty liver. Non-pregnancy-related causes, such as liver disease, drug use or inflammation of the liver, can also bring on jaundice during pregnancy.

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Skin and Eye Changes

The most common manifestation of jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. The yellow colour occurs because of a build-up of the chemical bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin comes from red blood cells and is essentially a waste product of iron from the cells. One of the liver's functions is to remove bilirubin from the body; but when the organ is not working properly, the chemical builds up in the blood. Even if the liver is functioning properly, a rapid destruction of red blood cells (anaemia) can produce more bilirubin than the liver can handle. The presence of too much bilirubin makes the skin and eyes appear yellow. An extremely high level of bilirubin can make the skin appear brown in colour.

Change in Urine

A build-up of bilirubin in the body will appear as dark-coloured urine. This change in colour is due to the body ridding itself of the chemical without the help of the liver. Pregnant women should also be aware that their prenatal vitamins can cause a change in the urine's colour which is not associated with jaundice.

Change in Feces

When the liver is functioning properly, conjugated bilirubin is expelled from the body through the faeces. Conjugated bilirubin is what gives faeces its dark colour; when the chemical is building up in the blood and not being eliminated, stools become lighter or clay-coloured.

Severe Itching

Another sign of jaundice is severe skin itching. Those with the symptoms can often scratch their skin raw, have problems sleeping due to discomfort and, in rare cases, even commit suicide. Pregnant women should be aware that cholestasis of pregnancy can cause itching not associated with jaundice. Cholestasis of pregnancy is not a common condition; but when it does occur, it shows up in the third trimester.

Advanced Symptoms

If a woman's jaundice is due to liver disease, which can occur from acute fatty liver or cirrhosis, she may also show serious advanced symptoms that include fatigue, ankle swelling, mental confusion, muscle wasting, intestinal bleeding, fluid accumulation in the abdomen or coma. Pregnant women often show some of these symptoms as natural signs of pregnancy, such as ankle swelling, fatigue and a growing abdomen. Advanced symptoms are most likely to occur if a person had liver abnormalities before pregnancy.

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