Autoimmune Progesterone Dermatitis

I was out of town last week when I got a call (around 8pm on a Friday evening) from my OBGYN practice. It was the doctor I’d been working with on getting this rash figured out. She had discovered that the rash was indeed autoimmune progesterone dermatitis of pregnancy – I get a nasty autoimmune reaction when I have too much progesterone in my body, and it manifests as urticaria – hives and a rash.

Even though I had suspected this was it, it was a relief to have a real diagnosis. The doctor was really excited to tell me, as well, likely because it is unusual. I found out at my next baby appointment from the midwife that my case had come up in the practice’s monthly all-hands meeting.

Having a diagnosis is important. I spent the weekend reading forum thread after forum thread written by women who were driven to distraction by this rash, and getting no relief, or women who triumphantly posted “after 20 years, I finally know what this is!” Twenty years. When I was using Mirena and kept getting sent to the dermatologist, I felt their frustration. I am sure there are thoughtful and caring dermatologists out there, but this one was not.

Most women who get APD have an autoimmune reaction that lasts a few days before their period until a few days into their period. Every month. In extremely rare cases, the autoimmune reaction is anaphylaxis. As if puberty weren’t upsetting enough – bleeding and anaphylaxis. I’ve never had a reaction that extreme, obviously. I do remember having itchy legs for years right before I’d get my period, and it was the only way I’d know when it was coming – it actually seemed so normal, it didn’t occur to me until this past weekend that it was a reaction or symptom. I may have lucked out having a wildly erratic period, even though that and the lack of progesterone that I make naturally obviously contributed to our difficulties conceiving.

I’ve been taking prednisone daily since Monday, and the itching has gone down tremendously, in a way that I have been unable to achieve with any other remedy. I still scrub with pine tar soap, but I no longer have to do it 2-3 times a day to get a little relief. I am able to sleep most of the night! I avoid getting too hot because I still tend to flare up a little when I do.

This photo, taken about 2 minutes ago, shows how far I’ve come. During the worst of the rash, my legs were puffy and covered with hives – the bumps like gooseflesh, the skin ankle to knee, over the knee, around behind the knee, up my legs to my belly was rutilant, angry, like it’d be sandpapered – and that was happening over my whole body. Now, most of my skin feels fragile and paper thin. Dry, but dormant – no more itch, for the most part. I think in part, some of my tiredness is my body working on slowly healing this large (getting larger) organ.


There is relief in a diagnosis, because I know what to avoid – progesterone – and I feel like I can get back to real life again. Even for something that seems minor (although if you have full body hives, you know it’s maddening), I know I wasn’t at my best. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus. I had to force myself to pay attention, and a large part of my mind was constantly consumed with not itching. Itching made it worse. The scratch/itch cycle is impulsive and imperative. You do it because if our ancestors didn’t swat away bugs, fleas, and the like, they could get life threatening diseases. Even now, proofreading a little, I accidentally find myself scratching my back. I have scratched all the soft areas that itch into bruised scabby fields. It’s disgusting, and I feel disgusting.

I know that I’m healing, and each day, bit by bit, my skin is getting healthier. I’m eating food that is nourishing for myself and my baby, and we are both getting stronger. I am able to be a good partner to my husband again, and share without agony the daily travails of childcare. The kids are growing up faster each day, and while they were sympathetic to my “scratchies” have blissfully forgotten about it again. And tomorrow I’ll itch a little less.

5 responses to “Autoimmune Progesterone Dermatitis”

  1. I’m so glad you’re feeling better, and I sympathize with skin rashy problems. After Ellie was born, I broke out in the worst case of psoriasis I’ve ever had. My belly and back were covered in scaly scabs and sores, I felt like I had lizard skin. Ugh. I’ve always had psoriasis, but the post-pregnancy/breastfeeding hormones took it to a whole new level of awful. Bodies are weird.

    Really glad you’re finding some relief! Crossing my fingers your pregnancy continues without further issues. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reading up on the APD has really shown me that psoriasis is one tough customer! I’m sorry you had such a bad case after Ellie – it’s hard to share that bonding time with anything, much less a skin problem that takes you away from the experience!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Took me many years of wrong diagnosis. Being a professional house cleaner; doctors used to treat as an allergic reaction from cleaning products….
    Until 6 years later… during 6 months at every other week I visited my doctor… to show my body… he sent me to an allergist… I’m alergic to my own ( never took birth control; until the day a doctor tried to treat the APD with the pills… and I ended up on ER.
    I believe I get the nasty rashes and all the pack of feeling useless as soon my levels change… haven’t been able to find an effective treatment yet. But I do use tea tree oil for the hives; and they dry faster giving me a faster relief from the itchy…
    I’m 37 and I have the rashes before my period since my first period when I was turning 10.
    My mother and grandma used to treat as fungi…
    I hate to k ow that I have it but I can’t make it stop.


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