Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy induced disease associated with high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine during the second half of pregnancy.  Women typically experience a rapid rise in weight and extreme swelling of their hands, feet and face.

Pre-eclampsia is a fairly common condition that affects approximately eight percent of pregnancies.

Factors that increase the risk of pre-eclampsia

  • The risk is highest with the first pregnancy.
  • Very young mothers (teenagers) and women over the age of 35 are at increased risk.
  • Being pregnant with twins or more.
  • Having a family history of pre-eclampsia or experiencing pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy with a new sexual partner.  The longer a couple have been having sex, the lower the risk of pre-eclampsia.  A sexual relationship of less than four months duration increases the risk.
  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Autoimmune disease.
  • Vitamin D, selenium or co enzyme Q10 deficiency.

What causes pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia occurs when there is a problem with the normal development of the placenta.  It is thought that the mother's immune cells interfere with the normal development of the placenta, and this restricts blood flow through the placenta.  The restricted blood flow sends chemical messages through the mother's body that have the effect of severely raising blood pressure.  The baby of a pre-eclamptic mother grows more slowly inside the uterus and is at risk of oxygen deficiency.  The baby usually has to be delivered prematurely in order to prevent life threatening events to the baby or mother.

A number of theories exist for the aetiology of pre-eclampsia but most research indicates that the condition is caused by an immune system disorder in the mother.  Research conducted in Sydney and published in the Journal of Immunology confirms that pre-eclampsia is caused by the mother's immune system mounting an attack against the fetus and trying to reject it.  The researchers measured the level of a type of white blood cell called T regulatory cells in the blood of healthy pregnant women at the time of delivery and compared them to levels of these cells in women with pre-eclampsia.  They found that in healthy women there was an increase in the quantity of T regulatory cells and a reduction in T cells that cause inflammation.  Women with pre-eclampsia don't experience this vital shift in immune function during their pregnancy.

Professor Fazekas, lead researcher in this study has stated that "Our research reinforces the belief pre-eclampsia is initiated, at least in part, by an immune mediated problem that leads to an increase in inflammation."  He also stated "We found that the changes in the balance between Regulatory T-cells and inflammatory T-cells in pregnancy may be crucial in stopping the mother's immune system from rejecting the baby. In pre-eclampsia, when these changes do not occur, both the baby and the mother are put at risk."

Other researchers believe that pre-eclampsia is a distinct autoimmune disease.  Biochemists at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston were able to demonstrate that auto antibodies produced in a woman can bind to and activate an angiotensin receptor that results in artery constriction, thereby raising blood pressure and producing pre-eclampsia.

Therefore, along with making sure you are not low in vitamin D, selenium or co enzyme Q10, improving the health of your immune system is critical for reducing the risk of pre-eclampsia. If you have an autoimmune condition, or a family history of autoimmune disease, it is very important to address this before falling pregnant. Read more.

Reference: Infertility: The Hidden Causes

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.