Boston - A research team from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) has found that elevated cholesterol levels appear to be a risk factor for preeclampsia, a condition of pregnancy that can have dangerous consequences for both the mother and child. The report analyzed data from the Nurses' Health Study II, which is based at the Harvard School of Public Health and BWH, and appears in the October issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
"This may prove to be one of the few controllable risk factors for preeclampsia, a disorder for which we have no treatment and one that affects thousands of women every year," says Ravi Thadhani, MD, MPH, of the MGH Renal Unit and the Channing Laboratory at BWH, the study's first author. "We need to learn more about exactly which lipids are involved in this observation, but it's a first step toward developing effective prevention techniques."
Much is still unknown about the ultimate cause of preeclampsia or toxemia, a condition in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and other metabolic abnormalities. If not appropriately managed, a woman with preeclampsia can proceed to eclampsia - characterized by seizures - or liver or kidney failure. Any of these complications can prove fatal.
Preeclampsia also increases the risk of premature delivery or may make it necessary to perform an emergency cesarean, since delivery is the only real cure for the condition. In such instances, the baby faces the numerous risks associated with prematurity. It is estimated that preeclampsia occurs in 5 percent of pregnancies and is more common in women having their first pregnancy. While preexisting diabetes and high blood pressure have been identified as risk factors, standard treatments for those conditions have not been effective in reducing the risk.
"We wanted to look at factors that could be modified before pregnancy or early
on and may play an important role in the disorder,
Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital