PITTSBURGH, March 15 -- Women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy are more likely to develop certain dangerous autoantibodies than women with normal pregnancies, and these autoantibodies are still present two years after childbirth in about 20 percent of women who had the disorder, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh report in the March issue of Hypertension, the journal of the American Heart Association.
Also known as toxemia, preeclampsia affects some 5 percent of pregnancies and is a leading cause of maternal and fetal illness and death, particularly in developing nations. Signs include high blood pressure, swelling of the ankles and the presence of protein in the urine. The condition typically appears after the mid-point of pregnancy. The only effective treatment is immediate delivery, which can be dangerous for the baby if it is too early. Untreated, the condition can lead to organ failure, coma and death. Preeclampsia also has been linked to an increased lifetime risk for heart disease.
"Further study is required to determine whether the presence of these autoantibodies could be an early marker for preeclampsia risk, but early data are promising," said Carl A. Hubel, Ph.D., the studys lead author and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Learning more about these autoantibodies also might enable us to identify a subset of women who are at greater risk for heart disease later in life, and give us a closer understanding of what causes preeclampsia."
For most women, the autoantibodies eventually go away after pregnancy. "But in some, they persist or reappear, consistent with other data showing that many of the risk factors for preeclampsia are the same as those for cardiovascular disease," added Dr. Hubel, who also is an associate investigator at the university-affiliated Magee-Womens Research Institute.
Contact: Michele Baum
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences