Although the exact cause is unknown, early diagnosis can help expecting mothers avoid complications

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine of pregnant women after the 20th week of pregnancy. This disorder, which affects 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies worldwide, is the number one reason physicians decide to deliver children prematurely and is responsible for approximately 18 percent of maternal deaths in the United States.

Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, one of the top five causes of maternal and infant illness and the cause of 13 percent of maternal deaths globally. In addition, newborns are at an increased risk of learning disabilities, cerebral palsy and blindness when born prematurely.

Preeclampsia research at Ohio State

In an effort to more rapidly diagnose preeclampsia, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital have developed a simple, affordable, non-invasive “red-dye-on-paper” diagnostic test that could have a major impact on the health of expecting mothers and unborn children across the globe.

The clinical study, led by Kara Rood, MD, is the first to use the point-of-care, paper-based Congo Red Dot (CRD) diagnostic test. The CRD test identifies misfolded or misshapen proteins in urine, which may be a strong indicator of preeclampsia. The CRD test proved to be superior in establishing or ruling out a preeclampsia diagnosis, showing an 89 percent accuracy rate.

What causes preeclampsia?

Although the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, autoimmune disorders, blood vessel problems, your diet, and your genes may play a role.

Other risk factors include:

  • First pregnancy
  • Past history of preeclampsia
  • Multiple pregnancy (twins or more)
  • Family history of preeclampsia
  • Obesity
  • Being older than 35
  • History of diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia can be difficult to diagnose, and some of the symptoms can be confused with heartburn, gall bladder pain, a stomach virus, or even kicking by the baby. Some women with preeclampsia do not display any symptoms and may not feel sick. Our maternal fetal medicine specialists can help determine if your symptoms may be a result of preeclampsia.

Symptoms of severe preeclampsia include:

  • Headache that does not go away
  • Trouble breathing
  • Belly pain on the right side, below the ribs
  • Decreased urine output or not urinating very often
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision changes, including temporary blindness, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision

How does Ohio State treat preeclampsia?

The only way to cure preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, which often means premature birth. If your baby is not fully developed and your preeclampsia diagnosis is mild, it can be managed at home. Some pregnant women may be admitted to the hospital to be closely monitored and receive treatment to curb symptoms and ensure the baby continues to develop.

Researchers and clinicians at Ohio State and Nationwide's Children Hospital are currently investigating the causes of preeclampsia, which may assist in developing an effective treatment or prevention of preeclampsia in the future.

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