New hope for common but deadly pregnancy complication
1 August 2005
A new Action Medical Research study is hoping to discover the causes of pre-eclampsia – a serious but very common condition that affects one in ten pregnant women.
The well-known and feared condition sadly causes the death of around 500 babies and up to 5 mothers every year.
In a bid to understand the condition, and ultimately find a cure, the University of Edinburgh research team has recruited experts from many specialisms including obstetrics, cardiology and dermatology.
Pre-eclampsia is a frightening condition that is characterised by high blood pressure and can include headaches, swelling of the body, fitting and kidney problems in the mother. In severe cases doctors have no choice but to deliver the baby early.
Thousands of women are treated every year – one in fifty pregnant women suffer from dangerous complications that have been caused by pre-eclampsia.
The two-year £120,869 project, led by Professor Andrew Calder of Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, will focus on the placenta and the mother’s blood flow; comparing those women who are having problem-free pregnancies with those who have pre-eclampsia.
Team member, Dr Fiona Denison, explained that the unique combination of specialisms involved would allow a thorough investigation of the condition.
Dr Denison said, “Our cardiology specialist has designed a technique to measure blood flow in the forearm and our dermatologist has developed a way of looking at the tiny capillaries under the skin – which can become leaky and cause the swelling that we see in women with pre-eclampsia.
“In the lab we will be looking at the structure of the placenta and its blood vessels so we should get a very comprehensive picture of what’s going on.
“Although many pregnant women know what signs to look for, someone with pre-eclampsia can feel quite well one day and very ill the next.
“All we can do at the moment is treat the symptoms – reduce the blood pressure for instance – but we can do nothing for the root cause.
“If a woman has pre-eclampsia her baby sometimes does not grow well in the womb and early delivery may be unavoidable; which is potentially dangerous for the baby.
“We also suspect that, for some women, the problems don’t end with the delivery – the mother may go on to suffer long-term complications such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
“Ultimately we hope that our research might result in techniques for identifying women at risk, so that a close eye can be kept on them throughout their pregnancy.
“This is a very exciting and tremendously important study.”
Andrew Proctor of Action Medical Research said, “This groundbreaking study is unique because it is pulling in experts from a wide range of fields with the common purpose of getting to the bottom of why pre-eclampsia occurs.
“This is one of our Touching Tiny Lives projects, which are urgently looking to find answers to premature birth and pregnancy complications.
“Ten percent of babies need some kind of special care when they are born – we think this is too many and that babies are dying unnecessarily because too little money is invested in projects like this.
“More research is needed to ensure that all babies, especially babies born prematurely, grow up healthy.
“Our Touching Tiny Lives Campaign is looking to raise £3m to fund vital projects whilst highlighting the urgent need for more research.”
Your donation could help fund vital research for children