Could Air Pollution Cause Pre-eclampsia?

If you’re pregnant, stay away from traffic. That’s the advice suggested by results of a recent study by Australian researchers that linked a serious prenatal condition known as pre-eclampsia, also called Toxemia, to increased exposure to nitrogen oxide, a marker for traffic-related air pollution.

Pre-eclampsia, with its triple-whammy of elevated blood pressure, protein in the urine, and severe headaches, often leads to the emergent “early” or premature delivery, and serious treatment of the mother, who is at risk for development of seizures. African-American women are at higher risk for the condition, as are very young and older women.

The researchers found that with each segmental increase in exposure came an increase in likelihood that women would develop pre-eclampsia, Furthermore, the increased risk was even greater in women with pre-existing or gestational diabetes.

What was even more startling was that they found women of Aboriginal descent, teen, and over-40 women also had higher risk.

The head researcher, Dr. Gavin Pereira of the University of Western Australia, hypothesized that the particles in the air associated with pollution may contribute to damage to the arterial walls and thus “may potentially contribute to hypertension.”  He goes on to suggest that “traffic-related air pollution precipitates or promotes the pre-eclampsia rather than initiates it…air pollution could be the last straw.”

Thus pregnant women with baseline elevated blood pressure, gestational diabetes or a history of prior pregnancies complicated by pre-eclampsia should think about ways to avoid traffic-related air pollution, particularly during the last trimester, when risk of toxemia is greatest. Of course, retreating to the countryside, beach or mountains where there is less pollution would probably be the best idea. Since many women can’t do that, they should at the very least avoid going to areas with lots of vehicular traffic, like congested cities, try to work from home, and/or install an electronic air cleaner in the house.

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