ICP (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy) is characterized by pruritus and biochemical cholestasis, including raised SBAs (serum bile acids) and, usually, elevated aminotransferases levels. However, AHP (asymptomatic hypercholanaemia of pregnancy) is defined as the presence of total SBA levels above the cut-off value (11 μM) in healthy pregnant women, thus elevation of total SBAs do not necessarily reflect an ICP condition. The aim of the present study was to describe clinical, obstetric, perinatal and biochemical findings, as well as the SBA profile, in pregnant women studied in the third trimester of pregnancy in order to define characteristic patterns of individual bile acids that enable women with ICP to be distinguished from AHP and healthy pregnancies. Free and conjugated ursodeoxycholic (UDCA), cholic (CA), lithocholic (LCA), deoxycholic (DCA) and chenodeoxycholic (CDCA) acids were evaluated by CE (capillary electrophoresis) in 41 patients (15 of them simultaneously by HPLC), in 30 healthy pregnant women and in 10 non-pregnant women. A highly significant correlation between CE and HPLC for total SBAs (r=0.990) and for individual SBAs was found. Normal pregnant women had higher total SBA levels than non-pregnant women (due to an increase in taurine-conjugated dihydroxy SBAs). Women with ICP had higher levels of total SBAs, the free/conjugated ratio, LCA, CA, CDCA and DCA than normal pregnant women. Newborns from women with ICP had lower birth weight and gestational age. Women with AHP had higher levels of conjugated dihydroxy SBAs than normocholanaemic patients, without any evidence of a clinical difference. In conclusion, the present study has shown a clear difference in SBA profiles between ICP and normal pregnancies (including AHP), involving a shift towards a characteristic hydrophobic composition in women with ICP.

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