A 15-minute blood test, developed by researchers at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, could make pregnancy safer for many women who are at risk of pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia is a severe type of high blood pressure that can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia can affect up to one in 10 pregnant women in the UK.
The only way to treat it is to deliver the baby. Complications of pre-eclampsia lead to around six deaths of women each year and around 1,000 babies – usually because of early delivery.
Until now, the only way to diagnose the condition was to check every pregnant woman for high blood pressure and measure protein levels in their urine. But these checks don’t tell doctors how severe the condition is – meaning thousands of babies are delivered early, just in case.
Now, researchers at Guys and St Thomas’ have developed a blood test that measures the placental growth factor in the blood.
That’s because the researchers have found that women with a low placental growth factor tend to get severe pre-eclampsia, meaning their babies should be delivered within 14 days. Those with a high level of placental growth factor, though, tend to have a mild form of the condition, so they can probably safely carry their babies through to full term.
Researchers tested 625 pregnant women – and the test accurately identified the severity of the woman’s pre-eclampsia 96% of the time.
“This blood test can really discriminate between those who don’t have a problem and those who need stepped-up surveillance,” says lead researcher Dr Lucy Chappell. “And that’s useful for an obstetrician. If a woman’s levels were very low, you would want to step up your surveillance. In the UK, we would certainly be admitting those women and monitoring them carefully.”
It’s hoped a larger trial of the blood test will take place later this year. And, if successful, the test could be offered to every pregnant woman in the UK.