Preeclampsia is a condition in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and increased protein in the urine. It can be a life-threatening condition if not identified early and can lead to premature birth and low birth rate.
According to the World Health Organization approximately 100,000 to 200,000 women die each year from complications of preeclampsia. In the United States it is believed that four to five percent of all pregnant women develop the condition.
A team of international scientists have identified markers that they believe enables them to predict who is at risk for developing this condition. These new findings will then help scientists develop a simple blood test to give early on in pregnancy to assess a woman’s risk.
The study, published in “Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association” was headed by Louise C. Kenny, MD, PhD, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Anu Research Centre, University College Cork, Ireland.
Symptoms of preeclampsia are often not displayed until the third trimester, but the study’s findings reveal that it is likely the condition is developed early on in pregnancy as a defect in the placenta.
“Everything we know about this condition suggests women do not become sick and present with preeclampsia until late in pregnancy, but the condition originates in early pregnancy,” Kenny said.
“In the next five years our aim is to develop a simple blood test that will be available to all pregnant women that will detect the risk of preeclampsia in early pregnancy,” explained Dr. Phil Baker, Dean of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta and co-author of the study.
The team identified 45 different compounds associated with metabolism that were found in the women that went on to develop preeclampsia. It is this “metabolic fingerprint” that will form the basis of the blood test.
The research involved women in SCOPE – screening for pregnancy endpoints - an international trial of 7,000 women pregnant with their first child, which aims to diagnose and prevent diseases of late pregnancy.
The team in Auckland, New Zealand, was able to successfully identify preeclampsia in 60 mothers at 15 weeks gestation. The women were otherwise fit and healthy, with an average age of 30.
In a separate test in Adelaide, Australia, they correctly identified 39 out of 40 women as having preeclampsia.
Although there is no cure for preeclampsia, other than delivering the baby, the condition can be closely monitored and treated effectively during the pregnancy.
Scientists hope to develop a blood test within five years that will be available to all hospitals for newly pregnant women.