Genes From Mom & Dad Tied to Preeclampsia
Link Stronger in Women, Norwegian Study Shows
Sept. 15, 2005 -- Preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening form of high
blood pressure during pregnancy, can run in families, a new study shows.
If untreated, preeclampsia can damage the mother's liver or kidneys, deprive
the fetus of oxygen, and cause maternal seizures (eclampsia).
Sons and daughters born from preeclampsia pregnancies may carry genes
related to the condition, according to the study, which appears in BMJ
The researchers who worked on the study included Rolv Skjaerven of the
Medical Birth Registry of Norway, a branch of the Norwegian Institute of Public
Like Mother, Like Child
Preeclampsia happens during pregnancy, so men don't experience it. But that
doesn't let them totally off the hook.
Men born from preeclampsia pregnancies are 50% more likely to father a
preeclampsia pregnancy than other men, the study shows.
That's a "moderately increased risk," write the researchers. They
note that the link appears to be stronger for women.
Women born from preeclampsia pregnancies are more than twice as likely to
have preeclampsia pregnancies, the researchers note.
The data came from Norway's medical birth registry, which includes every
baby born in Norway since 1967. That's more than 2 million babies.
Preeclampsia is most common in first-time pregnancies. Women who have
preeclampsia with their first pregnancy won't necessarily have preeclampsia
with later pregnancies.
The researchers took that into account. It didn't change their findings.
Then, the scientists took another look at the family tree. They wanted to
see if children born to women who had had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
were likely to have preeclampsia.
The answer was yes for girls and no for boys. Birth order didn't change
Sisters of babies born from preeclampsia pregnancies were twice as likely to
have preeclampsia as women with no family history of the condition.
Brothers of preeclampsia babies were as likely to father preeclampsia
pregnancies as men with no family preeclampsia history, the study shows.
The researchers didn't hunt for genes that cause preeclampsia. But the
generational patterns prompted them to suggest a genetic link to the
No one knows what causes preeclampsia.
Risk factors can include chronic high blood pressure, chronic kidney
disease, personal or family history of preeclampsia, diabetes, obesity, first
pregnancy (or first pregnancy with a new partner), pregnancy with more than one
baby, and age (younger than 21 or older than 35).
Another preeclampsia risk factor is molar pregnancy -- a mass of abnormal
cell growth inside the uterus that triggers pregnancy symptoms.
Prenatal Care Counts
Preeclampsia is one reason why prenatal care is so important. Doctors can
help find and treat the problem.
Besides high blood pressure, preeclampsia symptoms can include persistent
headache, vision problems, pain in the upper right abdomen, protein in urine,
and swollen hands and face that don't go away during the day (if accompanied by
other signs of preeclampsia).
Preeclampsia typically develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. Treatment
may call for bed rest in a hospital, medication, and close monitoring of the
mother and fetus.