A simple blood test could help determine which women will develop pre-eclampsia

The new test could help doctors focus on women with the highest risk of pre-eclampsia.
The new test could help doctors focus on women with the highest risk of pre-eclampsia. Photo: Getty Images

Melbourne researchers have developed a new blood test that may be able to predict whether a pregnant woman will develop pre-eclampsia – a common and potentially deadly high blood pressure disorder that occurs in 5 to 10 per cent of pregnancies.

Professor Shaun Brennecke, from the Royal Women's Hospital, is leading a trial of a test that measures blood proteins that are released by the placenta during pregnancy, and he says the results so far are promising.

Professor Brennecke says the test will eliminate false alarm cases and allow the focus to be on women who are going to develop the condition.

"When it comes to this condition, there are two things you would like to predict: you'd like to know which women are at high risk of developing it and which women are not. This is where this test comes in and so far, we have seen optimistic results," told The Huffington Post Australia.

Currently, pre-eclampsia can only be detected in a pregnant woman once it has appeared.

"Some women who are checked into an antenatal clinic may have features suspicious of the possibility of pre-eclampsia, but not yet a sufficiently high level to make the diagnosis. These women need to be monitored more closely – an intervention that represents an imposition on the mother and a cost to the hospital," Professor Brennecke said.

Currently, only 20 per cent of women who are admitted to hospital with possible pre-eclampsia actually have the condition – but this new test would identify at-risk women.

The blood test measures two proteins that are released from the placenta which are found in the blood of women who have pre-eclampsia.

Professer Brennecke explains, "One blood factor is markedly increased in pre-eclampsia, and the other is reduced. By combining those two tests, we can discriminate those who are high-risk of pre-eclampsia and those who aren't."

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Those who are detected to have the signs of pre-eclampsia will have a 40 per cent chance of developing pre-eclampsia during the pregnancy.

They can be observed closely throughout their pregnancy and treated as soon as any signs of pre-eclampsia develop.

There is no cure for pre-eclampsia, and the treatment means ending the pregnancy.

"Although you can offer some treatment to help stabilise the mother, you can't cure the condition until you deliver the baby and placenta," Professor Brennecke said.

The test is not yet available outside of the testing group, but Professor Brennicke is confident it will be rolled out across the country after further testing and assessments.