Pre-eclampsia during pregnancy is rare but dangerous, and for the women and children that survive, a lifelong risk of heart disease accompanies them. Scientists from the University of Nottingham are hoping to develop tools to identify the most at-risk individuals, to provide preventative interventions for better quality of life.
Pre-eclampsia affects between two and eight percent of pregnancies, usually between the end of the pregnancy and right after birth. High blood pressure and protein in the urine are markers of the condition, which inhibits the healthy formation of the placenta. Accordingly, complications from pre-eclampsia often include blood clots, organ failure, seizure, and babies born prematurely. A risk of hypertension later in life for both mother and baby is common, and so mothers and babies are eight and five times more likely to develop heart disease later in life, respectively.
The new study from University of Nottingham scientists reveals the mechanism behind the link between pre-eclampsia and risk of heart disease later in life: cholesterol regulation. They suggest the development of tools that can identify the mothers and babies at the highest risk of developing heart problems.
Pre-eclampsia’s effect on the placenta prevents the mother from effectively ridding the body of excess cholesterol by bringing it to the liver for processing and recycling. This dysfunction of the normal body process that eliminates cholesterol from the blood largely contributes to the increased risk of heart disease later on, for both mother and baby.
The placenta is involved by providing the fetus with oxygen and essential nutrients and by regulating the amount of cholesterol the fetus receives. The fetus needs cholesterol from the mother for growth, development, and building a foundation of fat reserves, but too much cholesterol can be harmful.
During their study of mothers with pre-eclampsia, researchers looked at their cholesterol management post-delivery: How does their ability to eliminate cholesterol change over time after birth? If it doesn’t improve, this would indicate that mothers recovering from a pre-eclamptic pregnancy would be at a high risk for heart disease. Even more, researchers could develop tests to find the women at the greatest risk of heart disease: Who needs preventative medicine the most?
Dr. Hiten Mistry, leader of the study, says the research “illustrates the importance of having the correct balance of cholesterol during pregnancy. The ability of mothers to effectively remove excess cholesterol is essential and monitoring this after delivery in women who suffered from pre-eclampsia could prove to be a useful indicator to identify those individuals at high risk of early heart disease."
The present study was published in the Journal of Lipid Research. This study follows a previous University of Nottingham study that showed how a fetus's DNA influence's a mother's risk of pre-eclampsia. Read more.
Source: University of Nottingham