PUPPP rash in pregnancy: Natural treatments and prevention
This type of rash usually starts in stretch marks on the abdomen and spreads to the legs and chest.
It causes itchy, red, hive-like bumps to form in the creases of stretch marks, and the rash can develop into larger red, swollen patches. In lighter-skinned people, the rashes may appear to be surrounded by a thin, white halo.
Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) often develop in the third trimester of pregnancy. In most cases, the rash resolves within 15 days of giving birth.
While some medications can reduce the symptoms of a PUPPP rash, there is currently no cure.
What causes a PUPPP rash?
The medical community is still unsure why PUPPP develops.
The rash usually forms first in stretch marks, or striae, and tends to develop in the third trimester of pregnancy, when the baby is growing the fastest.
Stretching of the skin
When the skin is stressed or stretched, the connective tissues can be damaged, causing inflammation that can result in a red, swollen rash.
PUPPP may be linked to the intense stretching of the skin that happens during pregnancy, particularly in the last few months.
Immune response to fetal cells
Another theory is that an immune response to fetal cells causes PUPPP. Some cells from the fetus migrate throughout the mother’s body. These cells can spark an immune response that causes the rash.
This theory may explain why PUPPP occasionally persists after birth, as fetal cells continue to circulate for a short amount of time in the mother.
More research is needed to establish a clear link between fetal cell circulation and PUPPP.
Peppermint contains high doses of menthol. Most research shows that menthol can reduce itching when consumed in a diluted mixture or applied directly to the skin in topical products.
There is no one set way to use peppermint to reduce PUPPP symptoms.
In a 2012 study, however, 47 pregnant women with moderate to severe itchy skin who took a preparation of peppermint oil twice daily experienced a decrease in itchiness without side effects.
The preparation was in 60 ml doses and comprised peppermint oil with a 0.5 percent concentration in a base of sesame oil.
Menthol is also a mild analgesic, which means that it can numb the skin. Many itch and pain-relieving ointments and creams contain menthol to numb the skin and prevent itching.
7. Clove oil
Cloves contain high doses of antioxidants and antimicrobials, particularly the phenol eugenol. These compounds may help soothe some inflammatory or damage-based skin conditions.
There is no single best way to use cloves for itchy skin.
In a 2017 study, 25 people who applied petroleum jelly, then clove oil to areas of itchy skin daily for 2 weeks experienced reduced symptoms, compared to a similar group, who only applied petroleum jelly.
Risk factors and prevention
The underlying cause of PUPPP remains unclear, so it can be difficult to identify risk factors.
Many women who develop PUPPP share some characteristics, most importantly being pregnant for the first time.
Most women who experience PUPPP during their first pregnancy do not develop it again, and if they do, it tends to be much milder.
Other possible risk factors for PUPPP include:
- excessive, rapid weight gain
- carrying twins or more than one baby
- being white
- carrying a male fetus
The only way to diagnose PUPPP is by ruling out the other potential causes.
The following factors can help to distinguish the rash from similar skin issues:
- PUPPP does not usually cause blisters.
- PUPPP does not usually affect the face, palms, or soles.
- PUPPP almost never impacts the belly button itself, though it may surround it.
- PUPPP usually goes away within 15 days of giving birth.
A doctor may also order tests to rule out other conditions. They may ask for a:
- complete blood count test
- liver function test
- comprehensive metabolic panel
- serum bile acid test, to rule out cholestasis of pregnancy
- serum cortisol test
- serum human choriogonadotropin test
- indirect immunofluorescence test
A doctor may also take a small tissue sample of the rash for further examination.
This could involve a direct immunofluorescence test, which involves applying dyes to the tissue sample to check for antibodies that damage skin structures. Most women with PUPPP have negative results.
Doctors have yet to determine the cause of PUPPP, but several natural treatments can soothe and eliminate the rash.
If the rash is only present in a small area, topical corticosteroids can also help to reduce itching.
PUPPP is most common during a first pregnancy, and it usually disappears around 15 days after delivery.
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