Ground-breaking new test will better predict mums’ pre-eclampsia risk

pregnant mum and child

Melbourne scientists have come up with a revolutionary new blood test for pregnant women, aiming to predict those in need of pre-eclampsia treatment more accurately – and hoping to avoid hospitalising women who won’t go on to develop the condition.

Promising new test

The Royal Women’s Hospital’s Professor Shaun Brennecke is currently leading a blood test trial that measures two revealing blood proteins released from a pregnant mum’s placenta, The Huffington Post reports.  Professor Brennecke is the Director of the Department of Maternal-Foetal Medicine at the RWH.

“The current understanding is that the organ responsible for pre-eclampsia is the placenta,” Professor Brennecke told the ABC.

Pre-eclampsia results in the death of 200 Australian babies every year, and 50 000 mothers per year, worldwide.  The “cure” for pre-eclampsia is the delivery of the baby and placenta.

This new test – called the sFlt-1:PLGF ratio – aims to make some inroads into better predicting and managing what is obviously a very serious condition.

Better diagnosis and management

Early results are proving to be promising, confirming this test may better pinpoint which mums need early intervention and bed rest and which ones don’t.

The current approach to women who may be at risk of pre-eclampsia is to – quite rightly – err on the side of caution. Professor Brennecke says that only around 20 percent of women who are put under observation for the condition actually go on to have pre-eclampsia.

This new testing protocol may result in healthier mums and babies, less worry for families, less unnecessary time on bedrest and fewer hospital admissions for possibly at-risk mums.

“If a woman has low test results, the trial data shows she will have a 99 percent chance of not developing pre-eclampsia over the subsequent week and a 95 percent chance over the next month,” Brennecke told The Huffington Post.

“That women can be safely sent home without concern and continue with her routine visits.”

High test results were a good indicator of the need for pre-eclampsia treatment.

An extra diagnostic tool

While the test has a 5% error rate, according to Professor Brennecke, he points out that those 5% are still closely monitored via antenatal visits and in the late stages of their pregnancy. It’s unlikely that they would fall through the cracks and not get the care they needed.

This new test is an extra, helpful string in the diagnostic bow, aimed at avoiding hospital admission by predicting which women will NOT go on to develop the condition.

“The important thing about the women with suspected pre-eclampsia in the past is that they’ve often had to be admitted to hospital for the detailed supervision that was required, and that’s quite expensive from a health economics point of view and also quite disruptive to the woman’s own domestic circumstances,” he told the ABC.

Professor Brennecke is hopeful that the test will some day be rolled out nationally and Medicare-scheduled.

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