Preeclampsia usually occurs without warning when a woman develops dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy. About 5 percent of pregnant women are affected by the condition. Many also begin to excrete protein in their urine. If the condition progresses to eclampsia, potentially life-threatening seizures can result.While doctors can treat the seizures and high blood pressure associated with the condition, only delivery of the baby can resolve the problem.
Findings from a new study suggest a simple blood test may help doctors identify women at risk of developing preeclampsia.Researchers built on previous work indicating large amounts of a blood molecule called sFlt-1 is present in women with preeclampsia, and sFlt-1 can induce preeclampsia in pregnant rats. Using blood samples taken from women participating in another study, they compared blood levels of sFlt-1 and another blood molecule, PIGF, in 120 women who developed preeclampsia and 120 women who did not develop the condition. Early in their pregnancies, sFlt-1 levels were about the same in the two groups. However, levels began to rise in the women who eventually developed preeclampsia about five weeks before they showed signs of the condition. By the time they were diagnosed with preeclampsia, their blood levels were three-times higher than women who did not have the condition.
In terms of PIGF, the study found women destined to develop preeclampsia had lower levels than women who did not develop the condition, with the levels dropping between the 13th and 16th weeks of pregnancy. The researchers also found these women had lower levels of a growth factor called VEGF both shortly before developing preeclampsia and during preeclampsia, although they were unable to use this substance as a predictive factor.
Specialists say "This is the most promising lead yet in the pursuit of a life-threatening disorder that has defied all attempts to prevent or cure it. If we could predict the development of preeclampsia, we could offer treatment before it becomes a serious problem."