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New Ways of Detecting Pre-eclampsia

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Pre-eclampsia is a medical condition that affects some pregnant women. This medical condition usually happens during the second half of pregnancy or 20 weeks until the baby is delivered. If untreated, pre-eclampsia is dangerous and life threatening to both the mother and the baby.

Several symptoms associated with pre-eclampsia include high blood pressure or hypertension and the excretion of protein in the urine or proteinuria. Other symptoms of these disorders include swelling of the feet, face and ankles caused by fluid retention or edema, severe headache, vision problems and rib pain. These symptoms warrant immediate medical attention.

Pre-eclampsia and bring about serious complications both to the mother and the baby if not untreated. This medical condition affects about 5% of pregnancies and becomes severe in about 1-2% of pregnancies. Risk factors for developing pre-eclampsia include first pregnancies, a history of having the condition during previous pregnancies, a family history of the said condition, age more than 40 years old, twin or multiple pregnancies, and others. Women who may be suspected of having pre-eclampsia should consult their doctor as soon as possible and should be advised to take a daily dose of low-dose aspirin from the 12th week of pregnancy until the baby is delivered.

There are many causes of preeclampsia, though its exact etiology is still unclear. These possible causes include insufficient blood flow to the uterus, damage to the blood vessels, a problem with the immune system and poor diet. Treatment of preeclampsia is usually done in the hospital so that the patient will be monitored for severity of the condition. The treatment is to deliver the baby with careful monitoring. Normally, delivery will be around 37-38 weeks of pregnancy but it is earlier in more severe cases. Labor may have to be artificially induced or through caesarean section, in which an incision in the stomach is created to deliver the baby. Medicines may also be given to lower the blood pressure, which may cause further complications. Most cases of pre-eclampsia may cause no further problems after delivery. Symptoms may improve after delivery, though careful monitoring should be done even after delivery because of the risk for serious complications that can affect both the mother and the baby. If left untreated and unmonitored, deaths of mothers and babies may ensue. Death of babies may be due to complications of early delivery, such as severe breathing difficulties.

Complications of pre-eclampsia to the mother include fits or eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, stroke, organ problems and blood clotting disorder. Fits (eclampsia) is a type of convulsion or fit which pregnant women may experience. This is often characterized by involuntary twitching of the mother’s arms, legs, neck or jaw and can result in jerky movements. Loss of consciousness may ensue. There may be a small risk of permanent disability or brain damage if the fits are severe. One in 50 women will die from this disorder. Unborn babies may suffocate during seizures and may die.

HELLP syndrome, on the other hand, is a rare liver and blood clotting disorder that can affect pregnant women. It is characterized by hemolysis or breakdown of red blood cells of the blood, elevated liver enzymes due to possible liver damage and low platelet count. This is a dangerous complication, yet is treatable.

Stroke may also ensue due to high blood pressure that can disturb the blood supply to the brain. Cerebral hemorrhage may ensue or a blood clot or thrombosis. Stroke causes blockage to brain blood supply so that oxygen and nutrients cannot effectively pass to brain tissue, further causing brain damage and death. Other problems from pre-eclampsia are pulmonary edema, kidney failure,, liver failure, and blood clotting disorders. Babies born to pre-eclamptic women are usually smaller than usual and may be premature.

Biomarkers in Pre-eclampsia

A recent study has found out that identifying biomarkers could lead to the early detection of preeclampsia. This study was done by researchers from the Centre of Molecular Inflammation Research (CEMIR) and the MR Cancer Group at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Their findings, “Metabolomic Biomarkers in Serum and Urine in Women with Preeclampsia,” was published in PLOS ONE. The researchers have found out that the metabolism of women who experience preeclampsia is clearly different from women with normal pregnancies. They have also found out that preeclampsia may have a similar profile to cardiovascular disease, and the inflammatory processes are reflected in the blood and urine of affected women.

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