Rashes

Red, itchy skin is probably not the pregnancy glow you had in mind. But some women develop rashes during pregnancy. Heat rashes, sometimes called prickly heat, are most common. They're caused by the increased perspiration and dampness triggered by pregnancy hormones (see also Perspiration). Other types of rashes also may appear during pregnancy.

Intertrigo. Increased perspiration can cause a rash called intertrigo, which is particularly common in overweight women. It's typically found in the sweaty skin folds under the breasts or in the groin area — warm, moist areas where fungi can thrive, causing infection with the resulting inflammation. Intertrigo should be treated as early as possible because the longer it goes on, the more difficult it may be to treat.

PUPPP. About one in every 150 pregnant women develop a severe rash with the tongue-twisting name pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). This condition is characterized by itchy, reddish, raised patches on the skin. These itchy bumps are called papules, and the larger raised areas are called plaques. They usually show up first on the abdomen and often spread to the arms, legs and buttocks. In some women, the itching can be extreme. Although PUPPP can be miserable for the mother, it doesn't pose risks to the baby. The signs and symptoms should go away after you deliver.

Although it's not known for certain what causes PUPPP, a genetic factor appears to be involved because the condition tends to run in families. PUPPP is more common in first pregnancies, and it rarely recurs in later ones.

■ Prevention and self-care for rashes

Most common rashes will improve with gentle skin care. Avoid scrubbing the skin, and use gentle cleansers. Minimize the use of soap. Oatmeal baths or baking soda baths can help relieve itchiness. Heat rash can be soothed by applying cornstarch after bathing, avoiding very hot baths or showers, and keeping the skin cool and dry.

To help prevent intertrigo, wear loosefitting cotton clothing, wash and dry the affected areas frequently — use a gentle cleanser or nonperfumed soap — and apply calamine lotion, baking soda or zinc oxide powder to the affected areas. You can also try blowing a fan or hair dryer on its lowest setting across moist areas.

■ Medical care for rashes

If self-care measures are ineffective or if your rash persists, worsens or is accompanied by other symptoms, call your health care provider.

If self-care fails to clear up intertrigo, your health care provider may prescribe a steroid, antibiotic or antifungal cream.

Treatment of PUPPP consists of oral medications or anti-itching creams. In particularly severe cases, a steroid cream may be prescribed.

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