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Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia

On-line version ISSN 1806-4841

An. Bras. Dermatol. vol.89 no.1 Rio de Janeiro Jan./Feb. 2014 

What Is Your Diagnosis?

Case for diagnosis*

Rita Cabral1 

Vera Teixeira1 

Ana Brinca2 

Barbara Fernandes3 

José Pedro Reis4 

1MD, Resident in the Dermatology Department, Coimbra University Hospital Center- Coimbra, Portugal.

2MD, Resident in the Dermatology Department, Coimbra University Hospital Center- Coimbra, Portugal.

3Graduate in the Dermatology Department, Portuguese Oncology Institute of Coimbra - Coimbra, Portugal.

4Graduate in the Dermatology Department, Coimbra University Hospital Center - Coimbra, Portugal.


Pemphigoid gestationis is a rare, autoimmune blistering dermatosis of pregnancy. No increase in fetal or maternal mortality has been demonstrated, but a greater prevalence of premature and small-for-gestationalage babies has been reported. Topical and systemic corticosteroids and antihistamines are the manstay of treatment. The authors report a case of a 27-year-old woman at 28-weeks gestation with sudden onset of pruriginous vesicles and blisters in the abdomen and limbs. Systemic corticosteroids were introduced and maintained throughout gestation to prevent flares and tapered after the birth of a healthy child.

Key words: Pregnancy; Pruritus; Skin diseases, vesiculobullous


A 27-year-old woman at 28-weeks gestation presented with a widespread, pruritic eruption of macular, confluent lesions with tense vesicles and some blisters in the arms and thighs (Figure 1). The lesions initially presented at 26 weeks of gestation on the legs and spread to the abdomen, arms, and back. Past medical history included one prior abortion due to sicklecell disease, without any history of similar symptoms. The patient had been previously treated with methylprednisolone cream and oral cetirizine, with persistence of the skin lesions. A cutaneous biopsy was performed in lesional skin, showing the presence of multiple vesicles in the dermal-epidermal junction, filled by serosity and eosinophils. In the underlying dermis, a marked edema outlined a dermal-epidermal detachment, with a dense inflammatory infiltrate (predominantly with eosinophils) extending to the dermis (Figure 2). Direct immunofluorescence in perilesional noninvolved skin showed linear deposists of C3 at the basement-membrane zone (Figure 3).

FIGURE 1 Macular, confluent, pruritic lesions in the abdomen and arms of a 26 weeks pregnant woman 

FIGURE 2 Cutaneous biopsy in lesional skin revealed a marked edema that outlined a dermal-epidermal detachment, with a dense inflammatory infiltrate (predominantly with eosinophils) extending to the dermis 

FIGURE 3 Direct immunofluorescence in perilesional noninvolved skin showed linear deposists of C3 at the basement-membrane zone 


Pemphigoid gestationis is a rare, autoimmune blistering dermatosis of pregnancy, with an incidence ranging up to 1:50.000~60.000 pregnancies depending on the prevalence of the HLA-haplotypes DR3 and DR4.1,2 PG typically develops in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, with an abrupt onset, but may appear any time during pregnancy or even in the immediate postpartum period. Severe pruritus is followed by the appearance of erythematous, urticarial papules and plaques that progress to tense vesicles and blisters. The lesions usually arise on the abdomen, often involving the umbilicus, and spread centrifugally, sparing face, palms, soles and mucous membranes (< 20% cases). Flares have been observed at or immediately after delivery1 , pre-menses and with the use of oral contraceptives (25% of patients).3-5

The criteria for the diagnosis for PG include an appropriate clinical presentation and specific histologic findings of a subepidermal blistering process and a linear C3 deposition along the basement membrane in direct immunofluorescence, with or without deposition of immunoglobulin G (20-25% of cases).

Treatment depends on the severity of the disease and aims to prevent blister formation and control pruritus. Mild cases may be treated with topical corticosteroids and oral antihistamines.1,4 Potent topical glucocorticoids, oral corticosteroids (prednisone 0.5~1 mg/kg/day), and oral antihistamines are reserved for more serious cases.6

In our case, clinical suspicion of PG was confirmed by histological and direct immunofluorescence findings and systemic treatment with methylprednisolone (0,5mg/Kg/day) was initiated during the pregnancy with gradual clinical improvement, despite a relapse after a first attempt to reduce the dosage, resulting in extension of the systemic treatment until delivery and 6 weeks after. A healthy, asymptomatic male infant was born without cutaneous lesions. To date the patient has not reported a flare with her menses. The present case corroborates the importance of a timely clinical and histopathological diagnosis of PG, thus preventing or minimizing the risk of adverse effects for the fetus. An interdisciplinary approach is also of crucial importance for the benefit of the pregnant woman and her pregnancy, and also for the infant, as well as during the postpartum period.7


1. Ambros-Rudolph CM. Dermatoses of Pregnancy - Clues to Diagnosis, Fetal Risk and Therapy. Ann Dermatol. 2011;23:265-75. [ Links ]

2. Semkova K, Black M. Pemphigoid gestationis: current insights into pathogenesis and treatment. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2009;145:138-44. [ Links ]

3. Ambros-Rudolph CM, Müllegger RR, Vaughan-Jones SA, Kerl H, Black MM. The specific dermatoses of pregnancy revisited and reclassified: results of a retrospective two-center study on 505 pregnant patients. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;54:395-404. [ Links ]

4. Jenkins RE, Hern S, Black MM. Clinical features and management of 87 patients with pemphigoid gestationis. Clin Exp Dermatol. 1999;24:255-9. [ Links ]

5. Amato L, Mei S, Gallerani I, Moretti S, Fabbri P. A case of chronic herpes gestationis: persistent disease or conversion to bullous pemphigoid? J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003;49:302-7. [ Links ]

6. Chi CC, Wang SH, Charles-Holmes R, Ambros-Rudolph C, Powell J, Jenkins R, et al. Pemphigoid gestationis: early onset and blister formation are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. Br J Dermatol. 2009;160:1222-8. [ Links ]

7. Alves GF, Nogueira LSC, Varella TCN. Dermatology and Pregnancy. An Bras Dermatol. 2005;80:179-86. [ Links ]

*Work performed at the Coimbra University Hospital Center - Coimbra, Portugal.

Financial funding: None

Received: January 18, 2013; Accepted: April 03, 2013

MAILING ADDRESS: Ana Rita Gomes da Cruz Rodrigues Cabral, Praceta Mota Pinto, 3000-075 Coimbra, Portugal. E-mail:

Conflict of interest: None

Creative Commons License This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.