Many of the symptoms of preeclampsia, a major cause of maternal death and premature birth worldwide, stem from a single protein, researchers have found. The discovery could lead to new ways of detecting and treating the disease.
Preeclampsia strikes 1 in 20 pregnancies, usually in the final trimester. Symptoms include high blood pressure and proteinuria–excessive protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can escalate to eclampsia, characterized by life-threatening seizures and kidney damage in the mother.
Earlier research had implicated the placenta, the vascular organ uniting mother and fetus. Without more specifics about what underlies the disease, however, early delivery of the baby and placenta is often required to dispel the symptoms. This treatment leads to premature births and sometimes the baby's death.
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