Prenatal Breakthrough: Introducing a Blood Test for Preeclampsia
For the 5 to 8 percent of women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy, diagnosis usually doesn’t come until the final weeks of gestation. The complication, marked by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in your urine, is tricky to detect and prevent (but excessive swelling, vision changes and intense abdominal pain can be tipoffs). Because it causes the placenta to stop providing oxygen and nutrients to baby, it often leads to an early c-section or induction to avoid more serious complications, including organ damage.
If you’re wondering why, in spite of the many prenatal tests and screenings available, we can’t better detect preeclampsia and allow for early intervention, know that doctors and researchers are working on it. The latest innovation? Just in time for World Preeclampsia Day: A blood test.
At Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital in Australia, a blood test trial was given to women who showed symptoms that could be indicative of preeclampsia, like high blood pressure, headaches and nausea. The test measured levels of two proteins released by the placenta. A negative preeclampsia result predicted women wouldn’t develop the complication within the next week with 99 percent accuracy, and over the next month with 95 percent accuracy.
“In the past we’ve had to wait until preeclampsia was clinically obvious by which time mothers were often quite sick,” Royal Women’s Hospital director of pregnancy research Professor Shaun Brennecke said in a statement. “If a test is positive we can increase our vigilance and surveillance and we can also be in a position, being forewarned and therefore forearmed, to start medications that can improve the outcome for both mother and baby.”
While Royal Women’s Hospital doesn’t indicate how early they administer the tests, other preeclampsia screening methods are aiming to detect the disorder as early as the first trimester. In the UK, a new screening done between 11 and 13 weeks, called the first-trimester combined test, evaluates three different measurements: mean arterial pressure (MAP), uterine artery pulsatility index (UtA-PI), and serum placental growth factor (PlGF). It detected preterm-preeclampsia (in other words, predicted a woman would give birth before 37 weeks as a result of the condition) at a rate of 82.4 percent, twice as frequently as the 40.8 percent of the current screening method.