Pregnancy and liver disease



Normal physiological changes in pregnancy are shown in Table 48.1. The mother’s blood volume increases by 40%, and her total body water increases by 20%. This is reflected in a 10%–60% fall in serum albumin and also a fall in haemoglobin. Up to 50% of women develop spider naevi and palmar erythema during pregnancy, which is thought to be due to the increasing levels of oestrogen. This reverses quickly post delivery. Serum alkaline phosphatase increases 2–4-fold in the third trimester (placental) and gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase decreases slightly. No change is observed in the aminotransferases (alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase) or the prothrombin time. A rise in the transaminases should lead to further investigation.

TABLE 48.1 Normal changes in liver function tests during pregnancy

Blood test Change during pregnancy
Alkaline phosphatase Increases 2–4-fold (placenta)
Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase No change or slightly decreases
Aspartate aminotransferase No change
Alanine aminotransferase No change
Bilirubin No change or slightly increases
Bile salts No change
Albumin Decreases by 10%–60%
Globulin Increases
Caeruloplasmin Increases
Prothrombin time No change
Cholesterol 2-fold increase
Triglycerides 2–3-fold increase

Up to 3% of pregnancies are complicated by abnormal LFTs at term. The best guide in determining the cause of abnormal LFTs is the timing of the problem during pregnancy (Figure 48.1). The differential diagnoses include:

Pregnancy is associated with an increased rate of gallstone formation. Hence cholecystitis and cholelithiasis need to be excluded in any pregnant woman presenting with right upper quadrant pain, nausea and abnormal LFTs. The differential diagnosis of right upper quadrant pain (Table 48.5) in late pregnancy includes pregnancy-related liver problems, such as liver involvement in pre-eclampsia, even hepatic infarction or rupture. It should be remembered that the gravid uterus pushes up the appendix, and appendicitis in late pregnancy can present with right upper quadrant pain.

TABLE 48.5 Differential diagnosis for right upper quadrant pain in the third trimester of pregnancy

Diagnosis Incidence during pregnancy
Pyelonephritis 1%–2%
Cholelithiasis/cholecystitis 3%–5% have biliary sludge
Acute appendicitis 1/1500
Pancreatitis 1/1439
AFLP 1/10,000–1/15,000
Pre-eclampsia + liver involvement <1%
HELLP syndrome 0.1%
Hepatic haematoma/rupture 1/45,000
Acute viral hepatitis Same as in the general population
Acute Budd-Chiari syndrome Rare

AFLP = Acute fatty liver of pregnancy; HELLP = haemolysis elevated liver enzymes and low platelet syndrome.


Cholestasis of pregnancy

Cholestasis of pregnancy is the most common liver disease unique to pregnancy. The incidence is about 1/500 pregnancies (0.2%) in Australia. A higher prevalence is seen in Scandinavia and South America (14% risk in Chile). The condition is characterised by pruritus, and an increase in the serum bile acid, and is usually seen in the third trimester. Women present with an itch, without any skin lesions (apart from scratch marks). There may be a history of mothers or sisters with the same problem, and it may have occurred in previous pregnancies. The itch normally goes within days after delivery.

Mar 29, 2017 | Posted by in GASTROENTEROLOGY | Comments Off on Pregnancy and liver disease
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