New biomarker shows promise in predicting preeclampsia

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Preeclampsia a medical condition affecting pregnant women categorized by high blood pressure and elevated levels of protein in the urine affects two to eight percent of all pregnancies. The condition has been associated with increased cardiovascular risks and can lead to the dreaded complication, eclampsia, characterized by seizures and high risk to both mother and newborn, unless urgent interventions, including immediate delivery, are instituted. The diagnosis is made using blood pressure readings and proteinuria assessments, as well as muscular twitching or hyper-irritability. However, a new study suggests that levels of placental growth factor a protein that indicates placental dysfunction may be used to predict which pregnant women actually have this disorder.

Dr. Lucy Chappell of King s College London and colleagues conducted a prospective study of 625 pregnant women from seven maternal units in the UK who were suspected of having preeclampsia prior to 35 weeks gestation. Of those women, 55 percent did go on to develop preeclampsia. Using the placental growth factor measure, researchers found that a low level of placental growth factor (below the 5th percentile for gestational age) was accurate in determining which pregnant women did not have preeclampsia.

According to researchers, Incorporating measurement of placental growth factor into the assessment of women with suspected preeclampsia could improve risk stratification, achieve an earlier diagnosis based on underlying pathophysiology, [and] enable individualized management of women with the disease. They also add that this test could result in further benefit: Targeting of resources to those at highest risk, while minimizing excessive assessment and intervention in women at lower risk.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, whose last encounter with either condition was during medical school in the 1970s, had this comment: Pre-eclampsia is not life-threatening, but is a harbinger of the emergency condition, eclampsia; thus, having a more reliable test for their presence, or absence, other than clinical findings and intuition is a big plus in the labor & delivery suite. Of course, clinical experience should not be underestimated, as the time it takes to get a lab test back may mean the difference between a simple approach and an emergent decision.