Pre-eclampsia screening could be available at 15 weeks

Irish researchers are creating a test that could detect the life-threatening condition early

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Pre-eclampsia is a dangerous condition that affects 1-2% of pregnancies. There is currently no way to detect the condition before it arrises, but researchers at University College Cork have been working on a test that they believe can predict it.

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The test could be available by 2016 and women would be offered in their 15th week of pregnancy.

Project leader, Louise Kenny, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at University College Cork said it has taken 12 years to develop.

Complications of pre-eclampsia lead to around six deaths of women and hundreds of babies in the UK each year. The earlier pre-eclampsia is diagnosed and monitored, the better the outlook for mother and baby.

Professor Kenny said: “If you can pick out women at risk, you can push them into a different pattern of antenatal care, including increased maternal and foetal surveillance, which means that the disease can be picked up early and mothers and babies can be saved.”

The team are also developing preventative strategies and the test will help them determine who will need them. “At the moment we just give aspirin to treat the condition [to people who are at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia] but we are hoping to have other novel drugs available in the future,” Professor Kenny said.

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include high blood pressure, fluid retention and protein in the urine. It is thought to occur when there is a problem with the placenta and, if it is not treated, it can lead to serious complications. Treatment of pre-eclampsia concentrates on lowering blood pressure, but, once it’s established, the only way to cure it is to induce labour.

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