There is currently no way to predict which first-time moms are at risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy, called pre-eclampsia. But researchers in the UK have discovered blood proteins that could forecast whether a woman in her first pregnancy is at risk for the condition
Pre-eclampsia (PE), which accompanies protein in urine, can quickly develop into a life-threatening condition for both mother and baby. Often, the only cure is to deliver the baby prematurely, which carries risks of its own.
Researchers from The University of Manchester and Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust analyzed samples from an international study called SCOPE, whose aim is to develop tests that predict major diseases of pregnancy.
The samples were taken at 15 weeks of pregnancy, which is before any signs of disease are present.
From the samples, there were three proteins identified that differed between women who then developed PE and those who did not. The researchers used a new method to examine them, which allows the levels of multiple proteins to be measured at one time.
Two of the proteins, called PSG5 and PSG9, which were not previously linked to PE, proved to be as good at predicting the disease risk as placental growth factor, which is currently the best indicator.
Dr. Richard Unwin, from the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, said:
“What we have done here is to develop a suite of laboratory methods which can identify and begin to validate real disease markers from patient blood samples, even before symptoms have developed, and we are hoping to continue applying these methods to other major diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease or stroke.”
The Preeclampsia Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing maternal and infant death due to PE, lists several symptoms, which could be indicative of the condition:
- High blood pressure
- Edema (swelling)
- Sudden weight gain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal or shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Changes in vision
- Hyperreflexia (when your reflexes are abnormally strong)
- Racing pulse or mental confusion.
Though many of these symptoms could be signs of other conditions, the organization recommends that women contact their health care providers if they notice any of these signs, noting that “the worst outcomes of pre-eclampsia are best avoided by early recognition.”
Dr. Jenny Myers, from the Institute of Human Development at The University of Manchester and co-author of the study, told Medical News Today:
“A screening test in early pregnancy which identifies women at risk of developing pre-eclampsia would allow us to commence prophylactic treatments, such as low dose aspirin, and instigate high risk surveillance protocols.”
She added that “in the future, a sensitive screening test would perhaps allow us to develop new preventative treatments.”