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A new study identifies risk factors associated with the pregnancy-related condition, preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that develops usually around the 20th week, or about half-way, through pregnancy.  The condition is a type of blood pressure disorder that occurs during pregnancy, with symptoms that include protein in the urine, swelling (edema), blurry vision, shortness of breath, headaches or development of HELLP syndrome, a more severe form of preeclampsia.  If unchecked, preeclampsia can cause organ damage to mom’s eyes, lungs, liver, kidneys, or heart and even stroke or death.   Monitoring for preeclampsia is an important aspect of prenatal care.

While some women may already be aware of their high blood pressure (chronic hypertension) when they become pregnant, preeclampsia is thought to begin, or be triggered, in the developing placenta.  The condition narrows blood vessels, limiting and reducing blood flow and may have a genetic or immune system component. 

Because a healthy placenta is critical to the health and wellbeing of the developing fetus, preeclampsia reduces the nutrients, blood, and oxygen delivered to the growing baby.  In the short-term, this reduction can cause restriction of fetal growth, low birth weight, and lead to preterm birth.  Studies suggest offspring exposed to preeclampsia could carry an increased lifetime risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and reduced cognitive function.

Given the dangers of preeclampsia to mom and baby, understanding risk factors is important.  A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) offers insight into preeclampsia, which affects approximately eight percent of pregnant women in the US.

The study involved a racially and ethnically diverse group of 618 women. Of the 618 women, 78 suffered preeclampsia.  Researchers hoped to identify cardiometabolic factors associated with preeclampsia and recurrence of preeclampsia in successive pregnancies.  Cardiometabolic diseases (CMDs) are conditions such as obesity, chronic renal (kidney), cardiovascular disease, and diabetes mellitus.  CMDs are the global leading cause of death. Findings of the study include:

  • Women with CMDs have a higher risk for preeclampsia during their first and subsequent pregnancies
  • Obesity is a factor in preeclampsia and its recurrence in later pregnancies
  • Fluctuations in weight between pregnancies was not found to increase risk of recurrent preeclampsia

Healthcare providers play an important role in guiding women through a healthy pregnancy. Attention to these factors and advising behavioral and other changes to reduce the impact of CMDs on pregnancy is key to reducing lifetime risks to both mother and child.  

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