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U.S. researchers have recently developed a simple urine test capable of diagnosing preeclampsia, a serious hypertensive complication of pregnancy.
Preeclampsia is a potentially life-threatening disorder that occurs during pregnancy and the postpartum period, affecting both the mother and unborn child, according to Preeclampsia.org. It is a progressive condition characterized by sudden weight gain, swelling, changes in vision and severe headaches, although some women with rapidly progressing cases of the disease report few symptoms.
Preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders are the leading cause of maternal and infant death. The condition occurs in the second and third trimesters and affects at least 5 percent of all pregnancies, leading to approximately 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths per year.
Risk factors for developing preeclampsia include having a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
To help diagnose the disorder at an earlier stage, researchers from the Yale School of Medicine have recently developed the "Congo Red Dot Test," which is a low-cost method of identifying patients at a high risk of preeclampsia through measuring protein in the urine.
"There is a critical need in the developing world for low-cost diagnostics for preeclampsia," said lead researcher Irina Buhimschi, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine. "This test will help identify high-risk patients that should be transported from remote settings to facilities where there is access to specialized care for preeclampsia, such as magnesium sulfate therapy."
She added that the test may also help identify which women need to deliver their babies immediately, which could reduce the incidence of unnecessary early birth.
Moreover, the research team believes that the Congo Red Dot Test can be used as a marker for identifying misfolded proteins. Earlier studies have found that preeclampsia is a pregnancy-specific protein misfolding disease.
"In this new work, we have seen a link between preeclampsia and other disorders caused by misfolded proteins such as Alzheimer's or prion disease," said Buhimschi. "This may provide the foundation for new therapeutic approaches to reduce the burden of this disorder."
Meanwhile, the results of two separate studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health suggest a link between preeclampsia and a high risk of impaired thyroid functioning later in life.
In the first study, researchers found that women who developed the condition were more likely to have reduced thyroid functioning during the final few weeks of their pregnancies.
The second study, however, discovered that subjects who had preeclampsia during their pregnancy also had a very high risk of having decreased thyroid functioning more than two decades after they had given birth.
Women who had preeclampsia in their first pregnancy were nearly two times as likely to have elevated levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), an indicator that the thyroid gland is not functioning properly. Women who developed the condition in both their first and second pregnancies were more than five times as likely to have high levels of TSH.
"The findings suggest that the possible development of hypothyroidism is a consideration in patients with a history of preeclampsia," said Susan Shurin, acting director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the organization that funded the research.
"Reduced thyroid functioning is easy to diagnose when suspected, and inexpensive to treat," she added. "Replacement therapy substantially improves quality of life of affected persons."
The researchers concluded that doctors who are treating women with a history of preeclampsia should be aware of the associated risk of developing reduced thyroid functioning.
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