Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy condition that many mums-to-be suffer from. In fact, it is actually one of the leading causes of illness and death among mothers and foetuses worldwide. Yet for the longest time, it’s been unknown just how it occurs.
But researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) may have found an important cause of preeclampsia and are the first to bring this to light. In their recent study published in Frontiers in Immunology, they believe that the primary cause of this pregnancy complication could be cholesterol crystals in a woman’s uterine wall.
Cholesterol Crystals: The Key Cause Of Preeclampsia
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Cholesterol is known to be a major cause of cardiovascular disease. And since women who have had preeclampsia have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease later in life, researchers used this connection. They looked into cholesterol levels in pregnant women with preeclampsia.
Cholesterol crystals, which are found in plaque that clogs blood vessels, are formed when bad cholesterol accumulates in the blood vessel walls. Studies have also found that they are a powerful initiator of inflammation in our bodies and cause a blood clot. It is said that these crystals need to be cleared out of the body for they are identified as harmful substances.
Although defence cells cannot break cholesterol crystals down, they call for more immune cells to help. This comes to no avail for the immune response runs wild, which would lead to the inflammatory process escalating.
Researcher Gabriela Silva, who works at NTNU’s Centre of Molecular Inflammation Research (CEMIR), found that the inflammation in this process was highest in the maternal-foetal interface is where the mother’s cells come into direct contact with foetal cells in the placenta and uterine wall.
“This direct contact means that the inflammation directly affects the communication between mother and foetus and contributes to even greater inflammation in the mother,” explained Silva.
Every pregnant woman has high cholesterol levels since both the foetus and the placenta need it. But women with preeclampsia showed higher levels of cholesterol. Also, they had the bad type of cholesterol that is usually found in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
“A pregnancy is actually a kind of natural inflammatory condition, and in the case of preeclampsia, the inflammation has become too strong and leads to disease,” added Silva.
Importance Of Checking One’s Cholesterol Levels
Silva believes that their findings make it possible for future treatment to become more effective regarding preeclampsia among pregnant women. While further research needs to be done to clarify their effects, future treatment may include cholesterol-lowering medications.
“Some women have an increased risk of preeclampsia right from the start. They should be followed up with a cholesterol check. This isn’t done regularly today, but it should be done regularly in the future. The use of statins during pregnancy is not recommended now. Still, several clinical studies are looking more closely at this and are showing that pravastatin, for example, can be safe to use during pregnancy,” said Silva.
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