Preeclampsia is one of the most common complications women experience during pregnancy.
According to the World Health Organisation, preeclampsia affects around 10% of all pregnancies and between 100,000 to 200,000 women die each year from complications of the disorder.
In developing countries, preeclampsia is responsible for about 50% of all maternal deaths.
An international research team has discovered a simple diagnostic test that can predict which women will develop preeclampsia.
This has the potential to not only save lives, but to reduce complications for mothers and babies, as well as alleviate stress about the potential for developing the condition.
What Is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition affecting pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy, although it can also occur several days after the birth of their baby.
The disorder is characterised by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, sudden swelling and fluid retention. If left untreated, the condition can cause further severe complications, potentially leading to death.
Read more about the causes and symptoms of preeclampsia.
Can Preeclampsia Be Prevented?
It is not well understood what causes preeclampsia during pregnancy, although it is believed the condition is caused as a result of the placenta not developing properly.
It is difficult to predict which women will develop preeclampsia but certain women seem to be greater risk than others:
- Women having their first pregnancy
- Those women with pre-existing high blood pressure or some other types of vascular disease
- Women with a family history of preeclampsia
- Those women who have diabetes
- Women who are pregnant with more than one baby.
New Prediction Method Could Save Lives
To date there has been no reliable way to accurately predict which women will develop preeclampsia. Women with risk factors don’t always go on to develop the disorder and women who have healthy pregnancies can end up suffering from symptoms.
The new predictive test has been developed through an international multi centre study. The blood test provides a high and low result based on the measurement of two proteins. These proteins are released from the placenta in high amounts in pregnant women who go on to develop preeclampsia.
Low results from the test indicate a very low risk of developing preeclampsia, and high results are more likely to develop the condition.
Why Is This Important?
Preeclampsia can develop quickly and symptoms can develop even in women who so far have had a healthy pregnancy. Often women are not aware they have rising blood pressure or protein in their urine until a prenatal appointment picks it up.
Being able to predict which women are more likely to develop preeclampsia allows care providers to be watchful and initiate treatment much earlier. This can improve outcomes for babies and mothers.
The only ‘cure’ for preeclampsia has been for the baby to be born, which can increase risks of complications for babies who are premature.
Research from Australia has discovered Metformin, a cheap drug used to treat diabetes, has the potential to be used to prevent or treat preeclampsia. Read more about the use of this diabetes drug here.
The preeclampsia blood test will alleviate the anxiety for women who are at risk for the condition and want to initiate early management and treatment. For those women who have no risk factors and are unaware they may develop the condition, it can reduce the chances of the condition becoming serious.
The test has been so successful in identifying women who are at risk for preeclampsia it is being introduced into clinical practice. This will reduce unnecessary hospitalisation in women and reduce complications for babies and mothers.