Research detailed in this month’s Journal of Medical Genetics suggests that genetic mutations in men and women may contribute to the increased likelihood of developing pre-eclampsia, a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication that usually occurs after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. This study presents the first research data linking genetic mutations in men to pre-eclampsia. Also referred to as toxemia of pregnancy, pre-eclampsia refers to unusually high blood pressure in pregnant women that reduces the amount of oxygen, blood, and nutrients delivered to the fetus through the placenta. Researchers believe that oxygen molecules, which have not been neutralized by the body, may damage the cells of the placenta causing it not to develop fully and lead to pre-eclampsia. A detoxification enzyme called GSTP1-1 controls this neutralization, and pre-eclampsia is more common when the gene that triggers GSTP1-1 production is mutated in pregnant women or their male partners. Researchers suggest that couples at high risk for pre-eclampsia undergo DNA testing and may benefit from pre-conception genetic counseling.
While more research is needed to further understand the role genetics plays in the development of pre-eclampsia, this complication is of grave concern as it affects an estimated five percent of all pregnancies and can be potentially fatal to women. Risk factors for women in developing pre-eclampsia include a history of high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, or pre-eclampsia in the family. Women who smoke, are older than forty, are obese, or are malnourished also pose greater risk as well as pregnant teenagers and women expecting multiple births. Signs of pre-eclampsia include rapid weight gain, swelling of the face or arms, headaches, vision changes, and abdominal pain. Concerns should be taken seriously as pre-eclampsia can lead to seizures, kidney damage, anemia, liver damage, and problems with blood clotting and spontaneous uncontrollable bleeding in women. Pre-eclampsia may also compromise the health of newborns.