Drug exposure link to preeclampsia

21 March 2023 |

Preeclampsia, a serious condition that can occur midway through pregnancy, affects three to four per cent of women in Australia - and its incidence is increasing.

Women with preeclampsia experience high blood pressure, protein in their urine, swelling, headaches and blurred vision.

The underlying cause of the condition is unknown. Researchers at the Women’s have found that exposure to prednisolone – a type of steroid commonly prescribed to women trying to conceive – during early pregnancy may have consequences for the long-term health of a pregnancy and could lead to preeclampsia.

Prednisolone is prescribed with the aim of reducing the number of “natural killer” cells in the uterus. These cells are thought to negatively impact pregnancy in some women and may lead to implantation failure or early pregnancy loss.

The study of 24 participants, who donated uterine and placental tissue, revealed that prednisolone affected the uterine production of proteins which are known to be altered in the uterus of women with preeclampsia. The drug was also found to change the way the uterine and placental cells interacted, which could have consequences for the formation of the placenta and a healthy pregnancy.

Lead Researcher Dr Ellen Menkhorst said the research suggests caution may be required when prescribing prednisolone to women in early pregnancy, and that corticosteroid use during pregnancy may be associated with poor pregnancy outcomes.

“Studies in rodents and populationwide cohort studies from Denmark have found an association with corticosteroid use and preeclampsia,” Dr Menkhorst said.

“Our study has identified a mechanism by which this commonly prescribed drug may increase preeclampsia risk.”

This research was published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology.