Preeclampsia stands as a formidable complication of pregnancy, characterized by elevated blood pressure and kidney impairment. Mayo Clinic scientists recently discovered that women who have experienced severe preeclampsia show signs of brain cell damage and inflammation. In contrast, those who experienced uncomplicated pregnancies did not display these markers. These groundbreaking findings were unveiled at the esteemed Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in San Diego.
Untreated preeclampsia, which affects up to 15% of pregnant women, can have serious consequences for both the mother and the unborn child. Even after childbirth, preeclampsia’s repercussions linger, potentially causing enduring harm to a woman’s kidneys, heart, and brain.
Moreover, preeclampsia has been correlated with escalated risks of heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline, and diminished brain volumes later in life. Regrettably, there are no reliable early indicators available to identify women at risk of developing preeclampsia.
This investigation explored the potential of identifying extracellular vesicles in the bloodstream of women, several years after their pregnancies were affected by preeclampsia. These vesicles are tiny fluid-filled particles that contain brain cell membranes.
Using data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project’s health records, a group of 40 women was formed. Out of these, 33 had a history of mild preeclampsia, while 7 had severe cases. Another group of 40 women who had uncomplicated pregnancies was carefully matched with them. A significant finding emerged: women with a history of severe preeclampsia exhibited notably heightened levels of extracellular vesicles, positively identified for amyloid beta – a pernicious brain protein believed to be integral to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid presence is a telltale sign of brain cell damage and inflammation, with correspondingly increased levels of amyloid found circulating in the blood.
Dr. Vesna Garovic, a distinguished Mayo Clinic nephrologist and senior author of the study, asserts, “These indicators of brain cell damage and inflammation found in the blood of women with a history of preeclampsia could pave the way for novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, aiming to enhance cognitive well-being across their lifespans.” Nevertheless, further validation is indispensable to determine the markers’ potential in prognosticating cognitive decline.
The study found a strong connection: higher levels of these indicators were associated with lower volumes of total gray matter in the brain, which is important for cognitive and intellectual functions.
Dr. Sonja Suvakov, a postdoctoral research fellow in nephrology at Mayo Clinic, emphasizes the growing importance of detecting circulating extracellular vesicles in blood for different diseases. In various diseases, these vesicles, which play a crucial role in intercellular transport and communication, increase significantly in production and undergo changes in their content. As a result, they have the potential to serve as valuable indicators of cellular damage.Dr. Suvakov underscores the imperative for further research to elucidate their role in the context of cognitive decline linked to preeclampsia history throughout a woman’s lifetime.
For expecting mothers, Dr. Garovic emphasizes vigilance toward preeclampsia’s signs and symptoms:
1. Regularly attend prenatal visits to enable healthcare professionals to monitor blood pressure.
2. Stay alert for abrupt weight gain and swelling. Although these manifestations are typical during healthy pregnancies, sudden and pronounced weight gain or swelling, especially in the face and hands, could signal preeclampsia.
3. If you experience severe headaches, visual disturbances, intense abdominal pain, or extreme shortness of breath, it is crucial that you get in touch with a healthcare professional right away or go to an emergency department for assistance. Given that certain aches and discomforts are common during pregnancy, discerning a serious issue can be challenging. If symptoms raise concerns, contacting a healthcare professional is paramount.
For those with a history of preeclampsia, sharing this information with healthcare providers is crucial. “We encourage women to discuss their reproductive history with their primary care providers,” Dr. Garovic advises. “The understanding of women’s future health risks related to their reproductive history is constantly advancing.”