So you’re nearly at the end of your pregnancy, and you’ve suddenly developed a crazily itchy rash all over your tummy? Aaargh! Don’t worry, it might well be PEP...
What is it?
PEP sounds pretty harmless. right? What is stands for – polymorphic eruption of pregnancy – sounds bloody terrifying doesn’t it?! Actually, it really is a harmless condition, affecting about one in 100 pregnant women.
PEP is most common in first pregnancies. You’re also at higher risk if you are carrying twins (or more), and you might be more prone to it if you have gained a significant amount of weight since becoming pregnant. Usually, PEP will develop at some point during the third trimester (occasionally it comes on shortly after birth) – and no-one is really sure what causes it.
The rash usually starts on the belly and, in particular, on any stretch marks you might have developed. It can spread up to beneath your breasts (hardly ever on them, though), and to the thighs, back and bum, too. The red rash is lumpy and bumpy, containing itchy hives. Sometimes, if the rash is scratched, the pimples will ooze a little fluid, and then crust over. Although PEP can be very unpleasant, it is not thought to be risky for either you or your baby (very occasionally a baby is born with a mild PEP rash, but it soon disappears). It’s just one of those things that can crop up – and will go away again, of its own accord, once your baby is born.
That’s not to say you have to suffer in silence though – if you think you might have PEP, then there are treatments available to ease the symptoms.
What can I do?
If you suspect PEP, show your midwife or go to your GP. Usually, it can be diagnosed on sight. Although it can not be cured as such (and it’s a self-limiting condition, meaning it goes away by itself eventually), your symptoms can be treated in various ways.
Dermatologists recommend that sufferers wear cool, cotton clothing, as heat may irritate the affected areas further. Tepid baths might also help.
In milder cases, where the rash is fairly contained, your GP might prescribe you with a mild topical steroid cream to apply to the affected areas. They might also supply you with emollients for your bath, and soothing, moisturising ointments, which can be used regularly for relief of itching and soreness.
If your rash is extensive and more severe, a strong steroid cream might be advised for a short period of time. Although steroids can be taken orally, your doctor is unlikely to prescribe them when you are pregnant. They’re reserved only for very severe cases indeed. Topical creams usually do the trick anyway.
PEP can be very itchy and uncomfortable, but you need to try not to scratch, because that could damage your skin. The itching can be eased with an antihistamine. It’s advisable to visit your doctor to get a prescription, rather than buying anything over the counter (and, remember, while you’re pregnant, your prescriptions are free!).
The very good news is that, if you suffer from PEP with your first pregnancy, you are unlikely to get it again with your second and subsequent pregnancies.