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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Parent genes' pre-eclampsia link
Image of a pregnant woman
The condition can be fatal to mother and child
Genes from both the mother and father can trigger the pregnancy disorder pre-eclampsia, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway found daughters of women who had pre-eclampsia had more than twice the risk of the disorder than others.

Men born after a pregnancy complicated by the potentially deadly condition also had an increased risk of fathering a pre-eclamptic baby.

Experts stressed other factors, such as the mother's age, also played a role.

Pre-eclampsia, caused by a defect in the placenta, which supplies nutrients and oxygen to the foetus, happens towards the end of pregnancy and causes blood pressure and kidney problems.

We have known for a while family history increases the risk, but so does being obese and being over 40
Mike Rich, of Action on Pre-eclampsia

Up to one in 10 pregnant women can get pre-eclampsia, with one in 50 suffering severe problems. It is responsible for the deaths of about five women and up to 600 babies each year in the UK.

Scientists still do not fully understand what causes it, although it is known that family history, being over 40, and a first time pregnancy can increase the risk.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at 238,617 women and 158,340 men and their pregnancies.

They found women had a 2.2 increased risk of have pre-eclamptic pregnancy if their mothers had the condition during pregnancy, while for men the risk was 1.5 times more.


The risk of serious pre-eclampsia was three times greater for women, and nearly twice as great for men.

Report co-author Professor Rolv Skjaerven said: "These results support the theory that both the mother's and father's genes contribute to the risk of pre-eclampsia.

"The risk through affected mothers is higher because they carry their mother's susceptibility genes and also transmit independent genetic risk factors to their unborn child.

"The risk through affected fathers is lower because fathers transmit only foetal risk genes."

Mike Rich, chief executive of the charity Action on Pre-eclampsia, said, while progress had been made in recent years, there was still a long way to go before it was fully understood.

"We have known for a while family history increases the risk, but so does being obese and being over 40.

"There is a whole series of factors that are involved and that is what makes it difficult to find a cure."

The study was published as the University of Edinburgh announced it is conducting research into the causes of the condition in a bid to find a cure.

The 120,000 Action Medical Research project will draw on experts from obstetrics, cardiology and dermatology during the two-year programme.

Researcher Dr Fiona Denison said: "All we can do at the moment is treat the symptoms - reduce the blood pressure for instance - but we can do nothing for the root cause."

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