Studying preeclampsia in expecting moms

December 3, 2009 3:28:22 PM PST
There is a new clue to a common and potentially dangerous condition during pregnancy.New studies are shedding light on the problem of preeclampsia.

School principle Malissa Mootoo had preeclampsia with her first child. She's watching herself very carefully now to avoid problems with her current pregnancy. She knows the danger of not controlling the condition, which happens in the last half of pregnancy and can cause high blood pressure, low birth weight and worse.

"A close friend of my husband's, his friend lost twins to preeclampsia," she said.

And the illness is now linked by two studies to low function of the thyroid gland. A higher-than-expected number of preeclampsia patients showed low thyroid function, and some with normal function developed problems as much as 20 years later.

"If you have preeclampsia, and it's going to change the way I practice, I'm going to check each patient's thyroid," said Dr. Jacques Moritz, of St. Luke's/Roosevelt. "And especially track them after delivery."

The thyroid gland sits in the neck, around the front of the windpipe, and it makes a hormone that controls many body functions.

Whether you're a school principle, a lawyer or a nurse, the symptoms of low thyroid function will make working more difficult.

Fatigue may be the worst symptom to cope with, and because thyroid hormone controls so many organs, weight gain, constipation and depression are just a few of the others.

A simple blood test can check thyroid levels, and replacement thyroid hormone pills are safe, generally just one pill a day.

"Once you check and see the thyroid function is low, the treatment is so easy and cheap, and makes the woman feels so much better," Dr. Moritz said. "I think every doctor would treat with thyroid, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

The big question is which came first, the chicken or the egg. Does preeclampsia cause problems with the thyroid? Or is low thyroid function causing preeclampsia? it will now be the subject of more research. In the meantime, every pregnant woman should make sure her OBGYN checks thyroid function in the second half of pregnancy.