Saturday, October 2, 1999 Published at 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
High cholesterol 'could affect pregnancy'
Blood pressure is tested in pregnancy for signs of pre-eclampsia
Mothers with high levels of blood cholesterol could increase the risks of developing potentially life-threatening pre-eclampsia, say researchers.
The finding, published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynaecology, adds weight to advice that pregnant women should take extra vitamin C and E, as these can help counter the damaging effects of cholesterol.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition in which the mother-to-be develops abnormally high blood pressure.
Unless it can be controlled, it can lead to eclampsia, or seizures, which imperil the lives of both mother and unborn child.
It is responsible for the deaths of a small number of women, but hundreds of babies each year in the UK.
Pre-eclampsia can lead to the baby having to be delivered prematurely, which could harm its development and chances of survival.
Researchers at two US hospitals analysed data from 16,000 women who had a pregnancy between 1991 and 1995.
They found 86 women who had suffered comfirmed pre-eclampsia, and 216 with gestational hypertension, a similar but far less serious condition.
But twice as many women who reported pre-eclampsia had elevated cholesterol levels.
Dr Ravi Thadhani said that the discovery was a first step towards an effective prevention process.
He said: "At the moment, there is a debate among physicians as to the usefulness of checking cholesterol levels in young women.
"This study certainly suggests a possible reason for doing so, but more work is needed before guidelines should be changed."
'More work needed'
He said that more work was now needed to be done to find out which type of cholesterol was doing the damage.
A study in The Lancet in early September found that women taking additional vitamins E and C reduced the risk of pre-eclampsia, perhaps because their ability to reduce a chemical process called oxidation which can lead to cell damage.
Dr Thadhani said: "That meshes nicely with our result associating elevated cholesterol we pre-eclampsia, because cholesterol contributes to oxidative stress - damge caused to blood vessels caused when lipids are oxidized and release harmful molecules called free radicals."
Janet Fyle, midwife policy advisor at the Royal Society of Midwives, said that the sudden onset of pre-eclampsia was one of the main dangers.
She said: "In the morning a pregnant woman can be fine, and a few hours later she can have pre-eclampsia."
Mothers-to-be should ensure they are offered a urine test for the presence of a protein which indicates the onset of pre-eclampsia, she said.
After diagnosis, most women are brought into hospital and told to rest in bed until the baby is developed enough to be born.