Researchers and doctors are constantly on the lookout for a definitive cause of preeclampsia. The condition is life-threatening and the only known cure is childbirth. When mothers suffer from preeclampsia before the fetus is full-term, complications can arise that place both mother and fetus in jeopardy. Some of the more common symptoms of preeclampsia are traces of protein in urine and elevated blood pressure. Researchers recently reported new findings that could open the door to future studies regarding the root cause of preeclampsia. The study, published in Reproductive Sciences, says the uterus is battling with the placenta when preeclampsia arises.
The fetus is foreign to the female body. There are mechanisms in place that prevent the immune system of a pregnant woman from attacking the fetus, but there is also an underlying process that controls labor. Basically, the immune system is tricked into leaving the placenta alone during gestation, but when the fetus grows large enough to be “full-term” that immune system response may be overridden by the natural time clock that ensures baby does not get too big to fit through the birth canal. When these two responses conflict, preeclampsia may occur.
The trophoblasts that make up the placenta are controlled by the father of the baby. Throughout pregnancy, the mother's lymphocytes are fooled into not attacking the trophoblasts. Fooling the lymphocytes is not easy, but the trophoblasts cause a layer of necrosis or dead cells around the placenta. These dead cells keep the lymphocytes occupied while the trophoblasts move into the bloodstream, causing increased blood flow to the fetus. As long as the lymphocytes are kept at bay, preeclampsia should also be kept at bay.
According to researching in the study, “...maintaining [the] balance could be the key to a healthy pregnancy free from preeclampsia.”
There is still a long way to go before a treatment other than childbirth is available for women suffering from preeclampsia. Right now, researchers are heavily focused on learning the cause of the condition so they may then learn how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Source: Harvey J. Kliman, M. Sammar, Y. I. Grimpel, S. K. Lynch, K. M. Milano, E. Pick, J. Bejar, A. Arad, J. J. Lee, H. Meiri, R. Gonen. Reproductive Sciences. 12 October, 2011.