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Breakthrough Preeclampsia Testing Makes Pregnancy Safer

July 8, 2023

A new test to detect preeclampsia was just approved by the FDA Read on to learn more about why this is a big deal!

Historically, the United States has more pregnancy-related deaths than other developed nations. And over the last two decades, that number has continued to rise—more than doubling since 1999.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, with causes ranging from heart complications like hypertension and preeclampsia to blood loss and post-surgical infections.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related complication seen after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If a woman has preeclampsia during pregnancy, it usually shows up as high blood pressure (hypertension) and the presence of proteins in the urine.

This life-threatening condition puts both mom and baby at risk. For a pregnant mother, high blood pressure increases the risk of seizures and strokes that can cause permanent brain damage and may lead to death. For babies, this condition increases the possibility of placental abruption or preterm delivery, each coming with its own set of risks.

In the US, 1 in every 25 pregnancies results in a preeclampsia diagnosis–a shocking statistic that continues to increase.

How is Preeclampsia Diagnosed & Treated

Preeclampsia is diagnosed in pregnant women after 20 weeks gestation who present with hypertension along with at least one of these symptoms:

  • Urine Proteins (Sign of Kidney Failure)
  • Elevated Liver Enzymes (Sign of Organ Failure)
  • Low Blood Platelet Count
  • Fluid in the Lungs
  • Prolonged Headaches, Dizziness, or Vision Disturbances

Regular blood pressure checks during routine prenatal visits is the first step to identify preeclampsia. Women with elevated blood pressure will be monitored more closely to determine individual risk level and treatment options.

When hypertension becomes a complication in pregnancy, doctors often order additional blood or urine tests to check for proteins, platelet counts, and other indicators of abnormal organ function.

Preeclampsia is a serious, life-threatening complication. Since preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related condition, the primary treatment option is to deliver the baby.

However, if the pregnancy is very preterm, early delivery can pose risks to the baby. Treatment plans might include close observation along with symptomatic treatment for preeclampsia to allow the pregnancy to continue.

Preeclampsia is Hard to Detect and Even More Difficult to Treat

The common theme with preeclampsia is that it’s not a very specific condition. While high blood pressure is a hallmark symptom, not all hypertensive pregnant women have preeclampsia. Other symptoms include headaches and dizziness, which are also non-specific symptoms of other conditions, including a healthy pregnancy.

Currently, less than 50% of severe preeclampsia cases are identified through traditional testing. For those patients with severe high blood pressure, the urine protein test can increase those odds up to 80%–but that still leaves a pretty big gap.

It’s often up to the keen eye of a watchful doctor and the self-reporting of the patient to raise the warning flag and warrant a closer investigation. However, a new blood test from Thermo-Fisher Scientific is helping provide a clearer picture with an astounding 94% accuracy rate.

The Game Changer: A BioMarker Test for Preeclampsia

A biomarker, or biological marker, is a general label for any biological attribute that can be identified and measured in a biological test of blood, urine, or other specimens. Most often, this is the presence or absence of a substance in the genetic material that indicates normal or abnormal biological function.

This test, specifically, measures a number of placenta-related proteins in the blood, providing results in a ratio format. This test is not a replacement for conventional testing but rather a supplement that helps doctors analyze risk levels for an individual patient.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved this blood test after seeing accurate results from a study of more than 700 patients in 18 separate hospitals. The test can effectively predict the onset of preeclampsia in high-risk patients within a two-week window.

This means the test can help doctors decide when it is safe to discharge pregnant patients hospitalized with hypertension–giving them a reliable tool to know who is safe to go home. This new blood test for preeclampsia is expected to have a positive impact, helping to reduce the maternal mortality rate in the United States.

The Bottom Line–Better Diagnostics Improve Maternal Mortality Rates

The new preeclampsia blood test from Thermo-Fisher is a big step in the right direction for reducing the number of deaths from pregnancy-related complications. Many of these deaths result from cardiovascular stress, like pregnancy-induced hypertension. This test now helps doctors be proactive and identify patients who are most at risk of developing the condition.

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