It only affects 5 to 7 percent of pregnancies in the United States each year, but preeclampsia is a major issue. This cardiovascular disorder is typically detected later in pregnancies (after week 20), and occurs when you have a combination of high blood pressure and protein in your urine. It can have some pretty serious consequences for mom and baby, such as liver and kidney failure, seizures, even death. It also increases the lifetime risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. But a new blood test may be able to reveal your risk for preeclampsia as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
Researches at the University of Iowa have determined that elevated secretion of arginine vasopressin (AVP) — a hormone that helps the body retain water and constrict blood vessels — can be an early sign of a preeclamptic pregnancy. But to examine AVP secretion, they looked at a more stable biomarker called copeptin. Using samples from the Maternal Fetal Tissue bank, researchers found that copeptin levels were significantly higher throughout the preeclamptic pregnancies than in control pregnancies. And this can be determined by week six of pregnancy.
Knowing about preeclampsia still can't prevent it. But women will be able to clarify whether ailments like swelling, blurry vision, headaches and abdominal pain are just standard pregnancy symptoms, or preeclampsia red flags. They can also be transferred to hospitals that offer the appropriate level of medical care, including high-level NICUs.
"The only thing you can do to protect a baby and a mother from some of the negative effects of preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, and most of the time that results in a preterm birth," says researcher Mark Santillan, M.D.
If researchers find that copeptin levels are also elevated in urine, women will be able to test for preeclampsia with an at-home kit.
Would you test early for preeclampsia knowing that there's still no cure?