The Food and Drug Administration has approved a blood test that can identify pregnant women who are at imminent risk of developing a severe form of high blood pressure called pre-eclampsia, a leading cause of disability and death among childbearing women.
The condition disproportionately affects Black women in the United States and may have contributed to the recent death of Tori Bowie, a track star who won gold at the 2016 Olympics. Two Black teammates of Ms. Bowie — Allyson Felix and Tianna Bartoletta — also developed pre-eclampsia during their pregnancies.
The new test may offer an early warning, identifying which of the many pregnant women who have suggestive symptoms will go on to develop the life-threatening disease within the next two weeks.
“It’s groundbreaking. It’s revolutionary,” Dr. Doug Woelkers, a professor of maternal fetal medicine at the University of California, San Diego, said of the test. “It’s the first step forward in pre-eclampsia diagnostics since 1900, when the condition was first defined.”
To what extent the test will improve outcomes and save lives is not clear, however, as there is no effective treatment for pre-eclampsia, which usually eases after birth.
“We don’t have a therapy that reverses or cures pre-eclampsia other than delivery of the baby, which is more like a last resort,” Dr. Woelkers said.
The new blood test, made by Thermo Fisher Scientific, has been available in Europe for several years. It is intended for pregnant women who are hospitalized for a blood pressure disorder in the 23rd to 35th weeks of gestation.
The test can tell, with up to 96 percent accuracy, who will not develop pre-eclampsia within the next two weeks and so can safely be discharged from the hospital.
Two-thirds of the women who get a positive result, on the other hand, will progress to severe pre-eclampsia in that time, and their babies may need to be delivered early …