05 November 2013

Pregnancy complications under spotlight

Doctors say a new blood test may help them determine if a woman will develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.


A new blood test may help doctors determine if a woman will develop a severe form of high blood pressure, known as pre-eclampsia, during pregnancy.

Pre-eclampsia can damage the kidneys, liver and brain, and lead to foetal complications such as premature delivery, low birth weight and stillbirth, experts say.

The new test checks level of a protein called placental growth factor (PlGF), and was assessed in 625 British women.

About 61% of participants who developed pre-eclampsia all had low levels of PlGF, researchers said.


They also found that if a woman's PlGF levels fell below a certain threshold before her 35th week of pregnancy, her baby was likely to be delivered within 14 days.

In a normal pregnancy, levels of PlGF remain more stable, the researchers said.

The study, partly funded by Alere, the test's manufacturer, was published in the journal Circulation.

Differentiate women

"The test is designed to differentiate women with pre-eclampsia from those with high blood pressure alone," Lucy Chappell, clinical senior lecturer in obstetrics at King's College in London, said in a news release.

"Current tests for the condition only detect that it's happening rather than predicting it, and by that time the disease has progressed and has likely already caused organ damage."

By using the test to identify women at high risk for pre-eclampsia, "doctors can better monitor and treat the blood pressure," Chappell said.

"It also prevents unnecessary hospitalisations of those who are not likely to develop pre-eclampsia."

Holds promise

Two other experts said the test might hold promise.

Dr Jill Rabin is head of urogynaecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre in New Hyde Park in New York.  She said that although more high-quality trials are needed to confirm the test's value, "this study clearly demonstrates the potential diagnostic utility" of the PlGF screen for pregnant women.

And Dr Jennifer Wu, an ob/gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City said that although the test "is currently not available in the US, it holds promise in predicting patients who will develop pre-eclampsia."

More information

The March of Dimes has more about pre-eclampsia.


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