Pre-eclampsia develops in early pregnancy but dangerous symptoms don’t develop until later on. Scientists hope they can spot women at risk before they suffer complications
Scientists are developing a blood test that could identify women at risk of a potentially life-threatening pregnancy condition, a report revealed today.
There is currently no way of predicting pre-eclampsia which raises blood pressure and can lead to strokes and even death.
The condition can also lead to premature birth, stillbirth and low birth weight.
But new research paves the way for a test that could predict the complication which can be fatal for both mother and child.
Pre-eclampsia is characterised by high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine. It is thought to begin in early pregnancy with defective development of the placenta.
Most often symptoms do not show up until the second half of pregnancy and there is currently no cure other than the delivery of the baby.
An international team of scientists detected a series of 45 different compounds linked with metabolism that were different in the women who went on to develop the condition. They said this ‘metabolic fingerprint’ could form the basis of a test.
‘Everything we know about this condition suggests women do not become sick and present with pre-eclampsia until late in pregnancy, but the condition originates in early pregnancy,’ said study leader Professor Louise Kenny, of the University College Cork, Ireland.
‘To develop effective treatment and prevention strategies – our ultimate goal – we need to be able to start treatment in early pregnancy. We need to be able to tell who is at risk and who is not.’
The researchers hope to develop a single blood test that will be cheap and readily accessible to hospitals.
‘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 pre-eclampsia in early pregnancy,’ said the study’s co-writer Phil Baker, at the University of Alberta, in Canada.
Researchers looked at women in SCOPE – Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints – an international trial of approximately 7,000 women with first-time pregnancies which aims to predict and prevent the major diseases of late pregnancy.
They correctly identified pre-eclampsia in 60 first-time mothers at 15 weeks’ gestation, in Auckland, New Zealand. The women had an average age of 30.
In another test in Adelaide, Australia, scientists identified symptoms in 39 out of 40 women.
The second group was more ethnically diverse and had an average age of 22-23.The findings have been published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.
In the UK, pre-eclampsia affects around five per cent of women.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 100,000 to 200,000 women die each year as a direct cause of pre-eclampsia.
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