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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Early test for pregnancy danger
The test could pick problems up early
The test could pick problems up early
Women at risk of a potentially fatal pregnancy complication could be identified months before symptoms develop through a simple blood test, researchers say.

Spanish scientists say the test, which can be carried out in the first three months, can identify up to 90% of women who will go on to develop high-blood pressure.

And they say it can detect symptoms long before standard tests can.

High blood pressure can be linked to complications in pregnancy including pre-eclampsia and gestational high blood pressure.

Portable monitor

Pre-eclampsia affects about 4% of all pregnancies and is the major cause of maternal and foetal morbidity and death.

Women at high risk of developing the condition include those with diabetes, existing high blood pressure, kidney disease, and having had the condition during an earlier pregnancy.


It could well enable clinicians to identify women who are more and risk and manage them more carefully

Mike Rich, Action on Pre-eclampsia
A pregnant woman may develop dangerously high blood pressure and begin excreting protein in the urine. This can develop into pre-eclampsia.

The blood pressure test developed by the Spanish researchers is called the tolerance-hyperbaric test (THT).

Women wear a portable blood pressure cuff and purse-sized monitor to record readings at various times during the day and night.

The THT test compares both the expected variation in blood pressure during pregnancy and daily pattern, with a particular woman's blood pressure pattern over a 48 hour period.

It can identify those who fall consistently outside the expected range.

Specific

Four hundred women were monitored by the researchers every four weeks during their pregnancy.

Of those, 168 developed gestational high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.

The test gave early identification of gestational high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, on average, 23 weeks before the condition was confirmed.

The test can be used as early as the first three-months of pregnancy when researchers say it can identify 93% of women at risk.

By the third trimester, it is 99% specific.

It is also 99% accurate at ruling out women who are not at risk.

Prevention

Professor Ramon Hermida, from the University of Vigo in Vigo, Spain, who led the research, said: "This is the first test that provides such high degrees of sensitivity and specificity at such a low gestational age."

He added: "The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to eliminate its cause, which is pregnancy itself.

"In most cases, that leads to delivering the baby early. Therefore, it is important to focus on prevention."

Many hospitals have the portable blood pressure monitoring equipment used with the THT, although it is relatively expensive, the researchers add.

Professor Hermida said: "Women at high risk for pre-eclampsia because of family or medical history, including those over 35 years of age, should have the test without question."

Mike Rich, chief executive of the UK charity Action on Pre-eclampsia, told BBC News Online there were tests being developed which could check for key proteins in the blood.

"This blood pressure monitoring test might work. It seems to show there might be some prediction for pre-eclampsia.

"All of these things are exceptionally useful in the management of pre-eclampsia."

But he added there was no cure for pre-eclampsia. "At the moment, all we can do is manage the condition.

"If further research proves that this test does work, it could well enable clinicians to identify women who are more and risk and manage them more carefully."

The research was presented to the American Heart Association's Annual High Blood Pressure Research Conference in Orlando, Florida.

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