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Health & Pregnancy

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Possible Cause of Preeclampsia Uncovered


In the current study, Kagan and colleagues suggest that in pregnant women with preeclampsia, oxidative stress might cause a decrease in ascorbate levels. This decrease prevents nitric oxide from being released when needed, triggering a sharp rise in blood pressure and other symptoms.

They came to this conclusion by evaluating 21 pregnant women with preeclampsia and comparing them with 21 pregnant women with no evidence of the disorder and with 12 nonpregnant women.

They found that the women with preeclampsia had high levels of special substances in their blood that normally store nitric oxide until it is needed. Increased levels of these substances suggest nitric oxide is trapped and not being released when needed. In particular, one of these substances was significantly higher in blood samples taken from women with preeclampsia than in either of the other two groups.

"I think that the major problem now is to really further establish that ... by fixing that or doing something about it we can somehow help in preventing preeclampsia," Kagan tells WebMD. But before they can move ahead, more research is needed to confirm their results. Once confirmed, researchers will begin investigating how to stop this process and, therefore, prevent preeclampsia.

Other preeclampsia researchers, however, aren't so sure that Kagan and colleagues have made their case.

Marshall Lindheimer, MD, professor emeritus, of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine at the University of Chicagohas a problem with the groups of women used in the study. He tells WebMD that preeclampsia studies need to compare pregnant women with preeclampsia against pregnant women with high blood pressure but no preeclampsia. The findings reported by Kagan and colleagues could be common to different types of high blood pressure as well as to preeclampsia, Lindheimer says.

"It's an interesting paper; it's a descriptive paper," says Leslie Myatt, PhD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and maternal and fetal medicine at the University of Cincinnati who reviewed the study for WebMD, "but it poses more questions than answers, unfortunately."

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