Early warning tests for women's heart disease

Tests that 'red flag' the early signs of heart disease in women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy could be developed following a new project by the University of Aberdeen.

Pre-eclampsia is a condition marked by high blood pressure in pregnancy and signs of damage to another organ, often the kidneys.

The condition affects 1 in 20 first time mothers and globally contributes to the deaths of nearly 76,000 mothers and half a million babies every year.

While rarely a cause of maternal death in the UK, pre-eclampsia is associated with an increased risk of heart disease later in life, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.

It is widely recognised that women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy are at increased risk of heart disease in later life but very little is known about how these women should be followed up, or what  tests should be used to determine who is most at risk.

Supported by a £20,000 grant from Tenovus Scotland Grampian, researchers from the University of Aberdeen will develop a pilot study by identifying women with and without preeclampsia from the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank (AMND) which has recorded all births in Aberdeen city since 1950.

They hope to recruit 40 women to the study from four groups - 10 who had preeclampsia and now have heart disease; 10 who had preeclampsia and do not have heart disease; 10 who did not have preeclampsia but now have heart disease; and 10 who did not have preeclampsia and do not have heart disease.

The participants will be asked to take part in a series of tests to identify markers of early heart disease and to identify any differences between people in the four groups.

Professor Phyo Myint, Chair in Old Age Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, said: “It is widely acknowledged that pre-eclampsia can lead to a range of complications with the heart in middle and later life but some may be surprised that standardised tests have never been developed to identify those most at risk.

“This small pilot study will make use of the excellent data available to us via the Aberdeen Maternity Neonatal Databank to take the first steps towards a bigger study which could eventually see the development of globally applicable tests that ultimately could save women’s lives.”

The study team consists of multidisciplinary researchers from AMND (Dr Sohinee Bhattacharya), Institute of Medical Sciences (Dr Dana Dawson), and will be led by Clinical Academic Fellow Dr David Gamble with the support from the Cardiac Research Facility at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the Medical Statistics Team.

Dr Gamble, lead applicant for the award said: “I am delighted to get this prestigious grant support from Tenovus Scotland Grampian, and looking forward to working with expert team of researchers in this neglected area of research.

“This project will provide essential data for my future research project and programmes as a PhD fellow and programme lead in this area.”