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A new blood test might help doctors determine if a woman will develop a severe form of high blood pressure, known as preeclampsia, during pregnancy, a new study shows.
Preeclampsia can damage the kidneys, liver and brain, and lead to fetal complications such as premature delivery, low birth weight and stillbirth, the experts said.
The new test checks levels of a protein called placental growth factor (PlGF), and was assessed in 625 British women.
The 61 percent of participants who developed preeclampsia all had low levels of PlGF, the researchers said.
They also found that if a woman's PlGF levels fell below a certain threshold before her 35th week of pregnancy, her baby was likely to be delivered within 14 days. In a normal pregnancy, levels of PlGF remain more stable, the researchers said.
The study, partly funded by Alere, the test's maker, was published Nov. 4 in the journal Circulation.
"The test is designed to differentiate women with preeclampsia from those with high blood pressure alone," Lucy Chappell, clinical senior lecturer in obstetrics at King's College in London, said in a journal news release. "Current tests for the condition only detect that it's happening rather than predicting it, and by that time the disease has progressed and has likely already caused organ damage."
By using the test to identify women at high risk for preeclampsia, "doctors can better monitor and treat the blood pressure," Chappell said. "It also prevents unnecessary hospitalizations of those who are not likely to develop preeclampsia."
Two experts not connected to the study said the test might hold promise.
Dr. Jill Rabin is head of urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She said that although more high-quality trials are needed to confirm the test's value, "this study clearly demonstrates the potential diagnostic utility" of the PlGF screen for pregnant women.
And Dr. Jennifer Wu, an ob/gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, added that although the test "is currently not available in the U.S., it holds promise in predicting patients who will develop preeclampsia."
The March of Dimes has more about preeclampsia.