Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 16:17 UK

Statins 'may cut C-section risk'

Statins are now very widely used by the NHS

Taking cholesterol-lowering statins may help minimise the risk of an emergency Caesarean, researchers suspect.

Work by a University of Liverpool team suggests high cholesterol levels may weaken contractions enough during labour to rule out a natural delivery.

The study of 4,000 pregnancies found overweight women were far more likely to need an emergency Caesarean because of a slow labour.

Statins are already widely prescribed to cut the risk of heart disease.

If we can find a way to reduce the chances of a C-section in these women, that would be great
Mr Patrick O'Brien
University College Hospital London

But they are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there is concern of a possible link to birth defects.

However, the Liverpool team suggest that the drugs might be given to women in the final three months of pregnancy to reduce their cholesterol level - and potentially cut the risk of needing an unplanned Caesarean.

Laboratory tests on samples of muscle tissue taken from the uteruses of overweight women confirmed that its ability to contract was compromised.

Further analysis suggested that this might be due to reduced flow of calcium into the muscle cells.

The researchers believe high levels of cholesterol may be the problem, disrupting both cell membranes and key signalling pathways.

Natural mechanism

Mr Patrick O'Brien, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist from University College Hospital London, said the work was interesting.

"If we can find a way to reduce the chances of a C-section in these women, that would be great," he said.

"Overweight women do have an increased risk of complications such as thrombosis and infection, so they would really benefit."

However, Mr O'Brien said doctors had avoided recommending statins in pregnancy because a woman's cholesterol level tends to rise naturally when she is pregnant, suggesting cholesterol may be needed by the developing foetus.

"We have avoided trying to counteract that in case it is somehow going against a natural physiological adaptation of pregnancy," he said.

Mr O'Brien added that there were other reasons why overweight women were more likely to need an emergency Caesarean. For instance, they tend to have bigger babies.

Around 150,000 Caesareans are carried out in England and Wales each year.

Women who have Caesareans take longer to recover and have a higher risk of infection and bleeding, while babies are more likely to suffer breathing problems.

The operation is also far more costly to the NHS than a vaginal delivery.

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