A pregnant woman.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is a breath test to check alcohol levels in the blood, and now there is one to predict the risk of pregnant women developing pre-eclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition that can affect both the mother and the fetus.
A discovery by researchers at the Emek Medical Center in Afula, described by the hospital as “a breakthrough,” was led by gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Shira Baram and associate Prof. Raed Salim, who heads the center’s delivery rooms, along with Dr. Marwan Hakim of the Scottish Hospital in Nazareth and Prof. Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who has developed breath tests for cancers.
They found a connection between the composition of gases in the pregnant woman’s respiratory tract and the ability to identify those going or liable to go into pre-eclampsia.
The condition has often been identified in women too late, when they already suffer from hypertension, kidney complications or protein in urine.
The researchers presented their work at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Diego.
Pre-eclampsia affects between 2 percent and 8% of all pregnancies. The main symptoms are high blood pressure and a high level of protein in urine.
While it can occur at any time in pregnancy, it usually appears in the third trimester and becomes more serious as time passes. In severe cases, pre-eclampsia develops into eclampsia, which involves seizures, and it can cause multi-system failure involving the blood, liver, lungs, kidneys and eyes.
Doctors believe that abnormal function of the blood vessels in the placenta is involved.
Early delivery of the baby is the best treatment, but it could come too early for the fetus to be born healthy. Prevention in the form of aspirin, hypertension medications and calcium supplements can be effective.
The researchers studied three groups of women; one of pregnant women already diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a second group of pregnant women who have not been diagnosed with it, and a group of women who are not pregnant. They underwent breath tests with a special device, and the samples were sent to a Technion lab to examine the gaseous components in their breath.
The study found that 88% of the women with pre-eclampsia had an identical gas composition – one different from that in the other two groups of women.
Salim said that in the near future, the technique will be used to predict pre-eclampsia even during the first trimester of pregnancy and identify pregnant women at risk for the condition. Those at risk would be given aspirin to thin the blood on a daily basis.