Test May Predict Preeclampsia Early in Pregnancy
A urine test taken early in pregnancy can accurately predict preeclampsia risk, according to a new study. Scientists found five proteins measured at around 18 weeks’ gestation can predict preeclampsia with more than 90 percent accuracy.
Identifying preeclampsia risk early is important
Preeclampsia is a dramatic rise in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure usually after the 20th week of pregnancy, along with the presence of excessive protein in the urine. Symptoms that may warn of preeclampsia are headache, abdominal pain, visual problems such as blurriness and seeing flashing spots, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, confusion, and heightened anxiety.
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy affect 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies of women who have no known risk factors. It is more likely to occur during a woman’s first pregnancy. Other risk factors include obesity, age (older than 40 or younger than 18), polycystic ovarian syndrome, lupus or other autoimmune disorders, and a history of chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease.
Scientists at University of Leicester discovered that the composition of proteins in the urine at around 18 weeks’ gestation could be an accurate indicator of the risk of preeclampsia. They made this discovery as part of a trial that included 145 women at risk of preeclampsia, eleven of whom subsequently developed the condition.
Urine samples from all the women were obtained before week 20, and they revealed five proteins that can correctly predict preeclampsia with 92 percent accuracy. Dr. Matt Hall, of the Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Leicester, noted that their finding “suggests that changes in levels of certain proteins in the urine early in pregnancy can predict who will develop pre-eclampsia about five months before symptoms develop.”
Although there is no cure for preeclampsia, women known to be at risk may be treated with preventive measures by their doctors until it is safe to deliver. Such measures may include use of medications to lower blood pressure, corticosteroids (for severe cases), anticonvulsives such as magnesium (severe cases), or bed rest.
Some research has suggested vitamin D may be helpful in preventing preeclampsia, although other work has not found vitamins C and E to be beneficial. One study notes that stretching may be more helpful than walking for pregnant women who have already experienced preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia can be dangerous to both the mother and her child. It can impair kidney and liver function and cause blood clotting problems, fluid on the lungs, seizures, and if not treated, death for both mother and child. It can also cause small or premature infants.
While this test to identify the risk of preeclampsia early in pregnancy does not provide women with a cure, Dr. Hall noted that “early identification of women at highest risk will allow focused monitoring and timely delivery of their babies, as well as reassurance for women found to be low risk.”
Baker AM et al. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2010 Nov; 95(11): 5105-9
University of Leicester