Reflux pill gives new hope for pre-eclampsia
A CHEAP reflux tablet will be tested as the first preventive for pre-eclampsia as part of a $1.5 million national trial aiming to keep vulnerable babies in the womb for longer.
The condition, involving dangerously high blood pressure, affects 3 to 8 per cent of pregnancies. Untreated, it can lead to organ failure, stroke or death of the mother, and can starve the unborn baby of nutrients and oxygen.
Each year, worldwide, about 600,000 mothers and many more babies die of it. The only cure is to deliver the baby and remove the toxic placenta, regardless of whether the baby is ready for birth.
But research from the Mercy Hospital for Women, published last year, found the heartburn drug, Nexium, can stop the abnormal production of toxic proteins released from the placenta of sufferers.
The Royal Women's Hospital and University of Sydney are leading a trial, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, aiming to replicate these test-tube findings in humans.
They will recruit 500 high-risk women from 11 hospitals across Victoria, NSW and South Australia. From the 12-week mark of pregnancy, half will receive a daily placebo, and half will get Nexium.
Director of pregnancy research at The Women's, Professor Shaun Brennecke, said the hope was that it could reduce blood pressure, protecting vessels from injury and constriction.
"Once pre-eclampsia gets severe enough, you have to end the pregnancy with delivery to cure the problem," he said. "But when delivery occurs very early, that's harmful for the baby.
"If we had a way to treat or prevent pre-eclampsia - ideally, both - that would be a great step forward."
The Women's is also first in Australia to use a test to predict pre-eclampsia up to a month in advance.
Prof Brennecke said this paved the way to treat women before they even showed symptoms.
Pre-eclampsia forced Megan Miles, 35, and her two sisters to have their children delivered early.
Ms Miles gave birth to Zara, now 22 months old, by emergency caesarean at 33 weeks, after her blood pressure soared dangerously.
She said: "If there can be something to prevent mothers going through what I went through, and what my sisters went through, then we're all for it."
The Women's is holding a free public seminar about pre-eclampsia on Tuesday at 7pm.
Donate to the Women's Miracle Mums Appeal here.