Researchers believe they’ve found a primary cause of the potentially deadly pregnancy condition, preeclampsia.
The most common pregnancy medical disorder, preeclampsia can be life-threatening for both mum and baby. But there’s new hope, with scientists discovering an important piece of the puzzle. And it may mean future treatment is as simple as taking medication.
Preeclampsia affects up to 10 per cent of all Australian pregnancies and until now, the cause has been known.
Uncovering the cause of preeclampsia
After years of research, scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology say the primary cause of preeclampsia appears to be cholesterol crystals.
“We’ve found a missing piece to the puzzle. Cholesterol crystals are the key and we’re the first to bring this to light,” said researcher Gabriela Silva. “A pregnancy is actually a kind of natural inflammatory condition, and in the case of preeclampsia, the inflammation has become too strong and leads to disease.”
When a mum-to-be develops preeclampsia, the placenta doesn’t develop properly, meaning the baby doesn’t get enough nutrition. While sometimes the symptoms are mild, in some cases it’s so severe that the baby has to be delivered early. Because the cause hasn’t yet been found, the current treatment is simply to monitor and treat the symptoms.
Cholesterol could be the key
It’s been known for some time that mums who have had preeclampsia have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease later on in life. So researchers looked at this link, studying the cholesterol of pregnant women with preeclampsia.
As the researchers explained, “Cholesterol crystals are found in plaque that clogs blood vessels. The crystals are formed when bad cholesterol accumulates in the blood vessel walls. Studies have shown that cholesterol crystals are a particularly powerful initiator of inflammation in the body and can cause the blood to clot.
“Cholesterol crystals are identified as harmful substances in the body that need to be cleared out. But the defence cells that come in to do the job aren’t able to break them down. They call for reinforcements, and more immune cells come in, to no avail. The immune response runs wild, and the inflammatory process escalates.”
Ms Silva discovered that this inflammation is at its highest in the maternal-fetal interface – this is where the mum’s cells come in direct contact with her baby’s. “This direct contact means that the inflammation directly affects the communication between mother and fetus and contributes to even greater inflammation in the mother,” she explained.
Ms Silva says future preeclampsia treatment could be as simple as taking cholesterol-lowering medications, but more research is needed.
Read next …
Here a few birth stories from mums who have experienced preeclampsia:
- Birth story: ‘My body was shutting down’
- Birth Story: ‘My pregnancy almost killed me’: grieving mum’s warning
- Birth Story: ‘Get checked, please’: Mum’s heartbreaking pre-eclampsia warning
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