Magazine article Science News

Blood Test for Predicting Pregnancy Problems. (Preeclampsia Progress)

Magazine article Science News

Blood Test for Predicting Pregnancy Problems. (Preeclampsia Progress)

Article excerpt

A natural compound that constricts blood vessels is overabundant in some women who develop preeclampsia or another late-term complication of pregnancy, researchers find. Testing for the substance might help doctors identify some women at risk for preeclampsia before they develop high blood pressure and other symptoms. The findings also hint that the compound may play a role in causing the perplexing condition, as may a protein identified earlier this year (SN: 3/8/03, p. 147).

The focus of the new work, the substance called asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA), works by inhibiting production of a blood vessel dilator, nitric oxide. Vessels in the uterus must dilate to supply a fetus with adequate oxygen and nourishment.

Doctors usually detect preeclampsia by noting a rise in a pregnant woman's blood pressure, coupled with swelling of her face, hands, and feet and a buildup of protein in the urine. In the most serious cases, preeclampsia leads to eclampsia, which is marked by high fever, convulsions, and coma. Eclampsia causes at least 50,000 maternal deaths each year worldwide.

Suspecting a link between the high blood pressure of preeclampsia and ADMA, Kypros H. Nicolaides of Kings College Hospital in London and his colleagues collected blood samples from women midway through uncomplicated pregnancies.

Using ultrasound, the doctors also measured blood flow in each woman's arm as a gauge of vessel constriction throughout the body. The researchers considered this measurement a proxy for blood flow to the placenta, the interface between mother and fetus. Out of the group tested, the scientists selected 43 women who had normal blood flow and 43 others with restricted flow.

Tests of the blood samples showed that ADMA concentrations were, on average, three times as high in the women with restricted blood flow as in the others.

All of the women with normal blood flow went on to have healthy pregnancies and births. …

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