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Blood test provides accurate, rapid diagnosis for pre-eclampsia

Published: 02 April 2019

Researchers funded by the NIHR have shown that a simple blood test can accurately diagnose pre-eclampsia two days quicker than current techniques, reducing the risk of serious health problems in affected women.

In response to the trial, NHS England has announced that they would be making the test more widely available across the NHS.

Pre-eclampsia is a common condition that can cause complications in pregnant women, including damage to vital organs, and can be fatal for the woman and baby. Pre-eclampsia is suspected in around 10% of UK pregnancies, affecting approximately 80,000 women annually.

Previous research has shown that measuring the concentration of placental growth factor (PlGF) in a woman’s blood is effective at diagnosing pre-eclampsia, but this test has never been tried out in a real world setting.

The researchers, funded by NIHR Research for Patient Benefit, enrolled 1,035 women with suspected pre-eclampsia from 11 maternity units across the UK.

In the study, published in The Lancet, women were randomly assigned to two groups: one had their PlGF test results made available to their clinical team and the other did not.

When PIGF results were available to clinicians, the average time to diagnosis of pre-eclampsia was 1.9 days rather than 4.1 days. The risk serious complications before birth (such as eclampsia, stroke, cortical blindness and maternal death) was 4% instead of 5%.

The availability of PIGF results had no effect the likelihood of complications for the baby, the age at which babies were delivered prematurely or whether they were admitted to a neonatal unit.

Lead author Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR Research Professor in Obstetrics at King’s College London, said: “For the last hundred years, we have diagnosed pre-eclampsia through measuring blood pressure and checking for protein in a woman’s urine. These are relatively imprecise and often quite subjective.

“We knew that monitoring PlGF was an accurate way to detect the condition but were unsure whether making this tool available to clinicians would lead to better care for women. Now we know that it does.”

NHS England has said that the test will be made more widely available across the NHS, as part of its plans to ensure as many patients as possible can benefit from world-class health innovations.

Professor Tony Young, national clinical lead for innovation at NHS England, said: "This innovative blood test, as set out in this new study, helps determine the risks of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, enabling women to be directed to appropriate care or reduce unnecessary worry more quickly.

Sue Ziebland, Professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Oxford and Programme Director of NIHR Research for Patient Benefit, said: "We funded this research to provide a conclusive answer as to whether PGIF testing does help clinicians to detect pre-eclampsia, a pragmatic research question typical of those funded by the NIHR.

“We'll be working with other national healthcare organisations to ensure the results of this study are taken up as soon as possible, so that thousands of women can get care more quickly and prevent the dangerous effects of this condition."

Read more about the study on the Kings College website

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