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Researchers say blood lead levels are the biggest risk factor for pre-eclampsia

Photo: Lead a major risk factor for pre-eclampsia
Researchers say blood lead levels are the biggest risk factor for pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication that kills 75,000 women globally every year.

Australian scientists have found a link between lead poisoning and an increased risk of the pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia.

A research review conducted at Griffith University found high blood lead levels are a bigger risk factor for pre-eclampsia than diabetes and even chronic high blood pressure.

Lead investigator Dr Arthur Poropat says their analysis of pre-eclampsia research has shown blood lead levels as the top predictor of whether a pregnant woman will develop the potentially deadly complication.
"There is a clear dose-response relationship between maternal blood lead and pre-eclampsia: doubling the blood lead level results also doubles the risk of pre-eclampsia," Dr Poropat said.

"Even relatively low levels of lead increases the risk of the condition," he added.

Pre-eclampsia is when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in their urine due to a kidney malfunction, which can potentially lead to cardiac and/or kidney failure.

Globally, the disease kills over 75,000 women each year and is responsible for nine per cent of all foetal deaths.

It's thought lead may be released from a pregnant woman's bones when calcium is being absorbed by the fetus.

"Following exposure, the body struggles to get rid of lead, and 90 to 95 per cent of the lead becomes stored in human bones. Tragically, when mothers' bones release calcium during pregnancy to help the fetus grow, lead is also released from the bones, resulting in the mother exposing herself and her fetus to lead," explained Dr Poropat.

While most Australian women aren't at risk of lead poisoning, those living in industrial regions, including Broken Hill (NSW), Mount Isa (QLD) and Port Pirie (SA) may be impacted, Dr Poropat warns.

"Regardless of where women are located or their lifestyle, women should be aware of the risks associated with lead poisoning if they are preparing to become pregnant or are currently pregnant," Dr Poropat said.

Any woman concerned about their exposure are advised to consult their doctor.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Research.

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