NHS to roll-out new test for potentially lethal pre-eclampsia

NHS England will be rolling out a new blood test for pregnant women to check for pre-eclampsia, a common and potentially life-threatening condition.

Pre-eclampsia is a serious heath condition that causes babies to be born prematurelyNatalia Deriabina | Shutterstock

The decision follows findings from a study showing that measuring levels of placental growth factor (PLGF) can speed up diagnosis by an average of two days, compared with the tests currently used.

As recently reported in The Lancet, researchers at King’s College London found that the earlier diagnosis was associated with significantly improved outcomes for women, without causing any health complications for their babies.

Pre-eclampsia, which affects about one-tenth of pregnancies, causes dangerously high blood pressure that can damage vital organs and be fatal to both mother and baby if it is left untreated.

In the UK, approximately 80,000 women are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia every year and around 100 women across the world die every day as a result of the condition.

Pre-eclampsia usually develops during the later stages of pregnancy and is identified using a combination of blood pressure checks and urine tests. However, these tests can take several days to generate results, during which time the risk of pre-eclampsia compromising the mother’s and baby’s health increases.

Pre-eclampsia can be managed if it is diagnosed early enough. Recent trials have shown that PLGF can accurately detect the condition so that dangerous complications can be avoided.

The trials involved 1,035 women in their second and third trimesters who were enrolled at 11 UK maternity units between June 2016 and October 2017.

Lead researcher Lucy Chappell and colleagues found that using the PLGF test alongside blood pressure and urine checks reduced the average time to diagnosis from 4.1 days to 1.9 days, compared with traditional methods. It also cut the rate of serious maternal complications before birth such as eclampsia, stroke and maternal death from 5.3% to 3.8%.

There was also no increased risk to babies, with no premature deliveries or admissions to a neonatal unit being required.

In response to the trial results, the NHS has announced that it will be making the test widely available to women across the UK and offering it to those with suspected pre-eclampsia once their term has reached 20 weeks.

The NHS, with partners in government, will be making this test more widely available across the NHS as part of our plans to ensure as many patients as possible can benefit from world-class health innovations."

Tony Young, NHS England

Chappell says that the NHS agreeing with the evidence that widespread PLGF testing could saves lives is “fantastic news.”

“Many tests have come into practice without robust assessment. This time, we have evaluated this new test and shown that it improves care and outcomes for pregnant women and their babies," she concludes.


Placental growth factor testing to assess women with suspected pre-eclampsia: a multicentre, pragmatic, stepped-wedge cluster-randomised controlled trial. The Lancet. 1 April 2019. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)33212-4.

Sally Robertson

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Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


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