Magazine article Science News

Male Sex Hormone, Preeclampsia Link Found

Magazine article Science News

Male Sex Hormone, Preeclampsia Link Found

Article excerpt

Doctors have long been baffled by what seemed to be a strange repercussion of preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy. Women who have had this condition face double or triple the normal risk of developing heart disease in later years. Although the symptoms of preeclampsia -- high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling -- largely disappear after pregnancy, the cardiovascular risk lingers for decades.

Finnish researchers now suggest that this risk may not be a consequence of preeclampsia at all. Rather, preeclampsia may simply be a harbinger of cardiovascular problems.

Their conclusion stems from the finding that women who have had preeclampsia also have higher-than-average concentrations of testosterone, a male sex hormone that is also present in women. While the female hormone estrogen seems to protect against cardiovascular disease, researchers suspect that testosterone may increase the risk. That difference -would explain, in part, why young and middle-aged men have more heart problems than women of the same age. As women's estrogen production drops with age, heart disease risks even out between the sexes.

The researchers compared blood taken from 22 women who had had preeclampsia during pregnancy an average of 17 years earlier with samples from 22 women who had had normal pregnancies. Although the preeclamptic women had elevated testosterone, they did not have unusual concentrations of several other metabolic hormones, the team of Finnish researchers reports in the February Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Had preeciampsia engendered a fundamental metabolic change, concentrations of the other hormones would also have been abnormal, argues study coauthor Olavi R. Ylikorkala, an obstetric gynecologist at Helsinki University Central Hospital.

The tests also indicated that the preeclampsia group had slightly higher blood pressure, although not high enough to warrant medication. …

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