Obese mothers increase likelihood of pre-eclampsia

A research team from the University of Glasgow has been awarded nearly £129, 000 by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to investigate the cause of pre-eclampsia (PE), a condition that kills nearly 600 babies in the UK each year. They believe it may be due to the excessive release of fatty acids and other potentially harmful chemicals from the obese mother's fat cells into her bloodstream. With obesity rates rising in the UK, the need to pinpoint the link with pre-eclampsia is becoming increasingly important.

PE affects the placenta, which supplies the baby with nutrients and oxygen from the mother's blood. There are no symptoms in the early stages of pregnancy and the condition is detectable only by antenatal checks on the mother's blood pressure and urine, although stunted growth in the baby can also indicate problems.

Lead researcher, Dr Naveed Sattar, says more research into the activity of fat cells in PE sufferers is needed to establish the causes of this problem, which effects around two to four in every hundred pregnancies. His team, based at University's Department of Vascular Biochemistry, will begin their three-year project this month by comparing blood plasma from PE patients with blood plasma from healthy pregnant women.

Dr Sattar believes factors in the plasma of PE patients may stimulate fat cells to release excessive amounts of fatty acids and other toxic products. Dr Sattar said: "Our study should offer new insight into the underlying causes of PE and may also pave the way for development of new treatments to prevent the condition. As PE is a major cause of disease and death for mothers and babies throughout the world, our research could generate real global benefits."

Professor Sir Charles George, Medical Director of the BHF, said: "Obesity is a well established risk factor for heart disease, but its link with diseases such as PE is less well understood. With obesity a growing menace in the UK, understanding how it causes such diseases is becoming increasingly important."

Mike Findlay ([email protected])

PE occurs in around two to four in every hundred pregnancies and one in five of those are affected severely. It is curable only by delivery, which makes it a frequent cause of premature birth and low birth weight. Children of mothers with PE are more likely to have learning disabilities and lower IQ scores. The condition can also be life-threatening for mothers and sufferers are at greater risk of developing coronary heart disease in later life.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is leading the battle against heart and circulatory disease – the UK’s biggest killer. The charity is a major funder and authority in cardiovascular research. It plays an important role in funding education, both of the public and of health professionals, and in providing life-saving cardiac equipment and support for rehabilitation and care.

For more information on the BHF, visit the BHF webpage.

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