As the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. continues, affecting Black women about three times more than white women, there is a fight for any solutions to pregnancy and postpartum complications that may have killed Olympic runner Tori Bowie and countless others. The leading cause of Black maternal death happens to be preeclampsia, a prenatal high blood pressure disorder that is the precursor to eclampsia, a high blood pressure conditions that can cause seizures and contribute to heart disease. On top of that, preeclampsia can cause complications well into pregnancy and weeks after birth.
Preeclampsia does affect pregnant people of all races, but is close to five times more likely to affect pregnant people who are Black, data shows, even if they have a high income and college education. According to an analysis by the CDC, 84 percent of pregnancy-related deaths could be preventable.
Yet, as SheKnows previously reported, it is unclear what exactly causes preeclampsia, which is related to other conditions including gestational diabetes and chronic high blood pressure. OB/GYNs can look for signs, including swollen hands and feet, high blood pressure readings, or abdominal pain, but not everyone with preeclampsia has symptoms and there’s a chance that medical professionals may dismiss certain patients’ concerns. There hasn’t been a widely available preventative preeclampsia test until now.
How does the preeclampsia test work?
While there are so many tests during pregnancy to make sure the health of the pregnant person and fetus is optimal, a newly FDA-approved preeclampsia screening test could be life-saving and help spot red flags for the condition in the blood.
The test measures for two proteins: sFlt1 and PIGF, which, if present, might signal potential preeclampsia complications, according to University of Chicago Medicine.
It’s first intended for people between 23 and 35 weeks pregnant who are already in the hospital for gestational high blood pressure, and has about a 96 percent accuracy rate to confirm that pregnant people do not have preeclampsia, per the New York Times. Anyone who comes back positive for the two above proteins, which tends to be about one third of people tested so far, could develop preeclampsia rapidly and may have to deliver their baby preterm. If people’s results come back negative on the test, they can be sent home and retested later in their pregnancy.
“It’s groundbreaking. It’s revolutionary,” Dr. Doug Woelkers, a professor of maternal fetal medicine at the University of California, San Diego, told the New York Times. “It’s the first step forward in preeclampsia diagnostics since 1900, when the condition was first defined.”
Ideally, the preeclampsia test can become more widely available and can detect preeclampsia before someone is already hospitalized for high blood pressure, but this is one small start toward combatting the maternal mortality crisis.
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