MONDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Women can be vulnerable to
sudden, sometimes dangerous spikes in blood pressure during
pregnancy, part of a condition called preeclampsia. And now
scientists say they've developed a high-tech method to predict
which women are most prone to preeclampsia in late pregnancy --
long before symptoms arise.
The approach relies on so-called "metabolic profiling" to track
telltale metabolites found in blood plasma. The researchers say
these changes could be key indicators for preeclampsia risk.
In all, 14 such metabolite targets were identified for
monitoring during the early stages of pregnancy, an international
team of researchers reported in the October issue of
While more study is needed, this panel of biomarkers can serve
as an accurate guide to whether moms-to-be run a significant risk
for developing the condition late in their pregnancy, the
"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," study lead author Dr. Louise C. Kenny, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Anu Research Center, University College Cork, in Cork, Ireland, said in an American Heart Association news release. "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."
Preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition, is
characterized by high blood pressure as well as high amounts of
protein found in the mother's urine.
The condition "affects 5 percent of pregnancies and is one of
the leading causes of maternal death worldwide. It is a serious
pregnancy associated syndrome which causes the mother's blood
pressure to elevate and may even cause seizures," said Dr. Jenifer
Wu, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York
City. "The only known treatment is delivery. Due to the danger to
the mother, some of the pregnancies may be delivered early. This
premature delivery then leads to significant morbidity and
mortality risks for the fetus," said Wu, who was not involved in
the new research.
Although not completely understood, the problem appears to stem
from a defect in placental development that occurs early in
pregnancy but typically remains undetectable until the second half
Spotting those women at highest risk for preeclampsia early in
pregnancy would be useful, of course. Looking for a viable
screening tool, Kenny and her colleagues focused on about 7,000
women who were participating in an international study of
The authors first tested their panel of biomarkers by examining
60 of these women, all of whom were healthy, first-time mothers
presumed to be at low risk for preeclampsia, who developed the
condition later in pregnancy. The women -- mostly white New
Zealanders averaging 30 years of age -- had blood screening at 15
weeks after conception. All were later found to have the 14
telltale metabolic biomarkers in the blood samples taken in early
pregnancy. (These women were matched for age, ethnicity and body
mass index with a control group of women who had had uncomplicated
The team then tested their metabolite diagnostic method among
another group of women in Australia, who were slightly younger and
more ethnically diverse. Women who developed preeclampsia were also
matched with a control group of 40 women with healthy pregnancies.
Of the women who developed preeclampsia, 39 were found to have had
the same 14 metabolites.
Wu applauded the new research. "With this knowledge, better
surveillance and more interventions may help improve outcomes for
the mother and baby," she said.
Dr. Arun Jeyabalan, an assistant professor in the department of
obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Magee Women's
Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh, agreed that "there's
definitely value in being able to predict preeclampsia early."
But she cautioned that the research is still in its early days.
"I hope this will be tested in other populations to confirm that
it's generalizable," Jeyabalan said.
"What I find particularly interesting with these kinds of biomarker studies is that they may, in fact, ultimately shed light on what actually causes preeclampsia, and hopefully eventually give us some information on treatments for preeclampsia. That's where this would be most valuable," she said.
In the meantime, work is progressing.
"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," study co-author Dr. Phil Baker, dean of medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta, Canada, said in the news release.
Find out more about preeclampsia at the
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