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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 02/12/04
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Researchers May Have the Key to Killer Threat for Pregnant Women

Researchers may have found a way to predict preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication of pregnancy.  A study appearing in the February 12 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine links the development of preeclampsia to two molecules appearing in the blood at abnormal levels. 

"Preeclampsia, which leads to eclampsia, is the leading cause of maternal death worldwide, and a major cause of preterm delivery," said Baha Sibai, MD, professor and chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UC Medical Center, and co-author of the study.  "Predicting preeclampsia is a major step towards saving the lives of many women."

Dr. Sibai is nationally known for his research on the subject of preeclampsia.

Researchers compared blood samples of women who did not have preeclampsia to those who later developed it.  Those developing preeclampsia showed elevated levels of soluble fms-like tyrosine kinase 1 (sFlt-1), prior to the occurrence of preeclampsia. 

Beginning early in their pregnancies, these women had lower levels of a substance known as placental growth factor (PlGF) in the blood than did women who did not develop preeclampsia.

Researchers also found lower levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the group of women that developed preeclampsia.  

Preeclampsia can occur suddenly, without warning. Usually, a pregnant woman with preeclampsia develops dangerously high blood pressure and begins excreting protein in the urine.  In some cases, the condition may progress to eclampsia, a series of potentially fatal seizures.  Although the high blood pressure and seizures can be treated, the only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.  According to the study authors, preeclampsia affects about 200,000 pregnancies (about 5 percent) every year in the U.S.

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