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Preeclampsia: Altering blood vessels might boost heart disease risk

Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Preeclampsia condition is seen during pregnancy.  Here the blood vessels around the uterus constrict result in symptoms including high blood pressure, kidney damage, swelling, and headaches.

According to Penn State researchers, preeclampsia during pregnancy may permanently alter the blood vessels, and boost their lifelong risk for cardiovascular disease.

Preeclampsia, a condition seen during pregnancy results in constriction of blood vessels around the uterus constrict result in symptoms including high blood pressure, kidney damage, swelling, and headaches.

According to Penn State researchers, preeclampsia during pregnancy may permanently alter the blood vessels, and boost their lifelong risk for cardiovascular disease.

In the study, researchers compared women who had healthy pregnancies with those that experienced preeclampsia. They found that after pregnancy, the blood vessels of women who experienced preeclampsia function differently than females who had healthy pregnancies. The finding could help them explain the reason for higher risk of cardiovascular disease in women who have had preeclampsia.

Although the symptoms of preeclampsia go away once the woman gives birth, the blood vessel dysfunction is yet seen, said Anna Stanhewicz, from the College of Health and Human Development. "This suggests that something happens during a preeclamptic pregnancy that permanently changes the way blood vessels function."

The results published in the journal Hypertension helped in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, Stanhewicz reported.  Preeclampsia increases woman’s risk of developing heart disease similar to a lifelong smoker’s. About 7 % of pregnant women are affected by preeclampsia in the U.S.

Earlier reports have shown the effect of preeclampsia on the blood vessels of mice and rats; the researchers now review the same effect on human blood vessels. They study about the vessel dysfunction after pregnancy, and it's occurrence to date. Besides, they compare the difference in blood vessel function amongst the healthy pregnant women and those with preeclampsia. The difference contributing factors to be studied, Stanhewicz reported.

For the study, researchers include 12 women who had a healthy pregnancy and 12 women who had preeclampsia. Further, with the aid of a special fiber placed through the top layer of skin on the participants' arms, the function of the blood vessels was monitored. The special fiber allowed them to apply substances locally. On application of acetylcholine (vasodilator), more dilation of the blood vessel (50 %) was seen in women who had preeclampsia than women who had healthy pregnancies.

The mechanism behind more dilation of blood vessels in patients with preeclampsia is well understood when the study was carried out using angiotensin II (vasoconstrictor). Reports suggest that women who had preeclampsia constricted about 20 % more than females who had healthy pregnancies. The final study included knowing the effects of losartan on blood vessels.

"We found that when we inhibited the action of angiotensin II with the losartan, it didn't affect the women who had healthy pregnancies, but it improved blood vessel function in the women who had a preeclamptic pregnancy," Stanhewicz said.

"By blocking that excessive constriction, we were able to functionally restore the dilation response." In future, she is interested to know the effect of losartan in women who have had preeclampsia and develop a possible treatment strategy.

Preeclampsia increases woman’s risk of developing heart disease similar to a lifelong smoker’s.