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  • Study Says Treating Preeclampsia With Viagra Might Also Benefit Unborn Baby's Health

    Yes, that's right, Viagra, the erectile dysfunction drug.
    by Kate Borbon .
Study Says Treating Preeclampsia With Viagra Might Also Benefit Unborn Baby's Health
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Results from a new research performed on rats suggests that treating pregnant women who experience preeclampsia with sildenafil citrate, more commonly known as Viagra, might offer protection for the future cardiovascular health of the unborn baby.

    The study, led by Hannah Turbeville, a doctoral student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, used a rat model that developed the condition of preeclampsia without any drug or procedure. The rat’s offspring was exposed to a stressor, which can trigger an increase in blood pressure. Later, the researchers found that the offspring who had been treated with the use of sildenafil citrate exhibited smaller increases in blood pressure, compared to the offspring that had not been given any treatment or that had been given more common blood pressure medications. This finding was more apparent in male offspring than in female offspring.

    According to Science Daily, Turbeville stated, “Our studies demonstrate the potential for targeted therapy of the nitric oxide pathway to improve the body’s response to stressors in the later lives of children of women who experienced preeclampsia.”

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    “This pathway plays an important role in improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure,” Turbeville elaborated.

    Following the results of their studies, the researchers are now working on figuring out why their findings were more apparent in male offspring than in female offspring, and whether the rats’ improved response to stressors can also lead to a reduction in the risk of chronic illnesses like kidney disease and high blood pressure when the offspring become adults.

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    While the research sounds promising, further study needs to be conducted especially on risk factors and adverse effects of the drug on both mother and child.

    In 2018, there was a Netherlands trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of Viagra on unborn babies who faced significant risk of being stillborn or dying after birth due to fetal growth restriction, which can occur with preeclampsia.

    Neonatologist Dr. Mohan Pammi, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston, who was not involved in the Dutch study, told CNN, "Fetal growth restriction happens when the growing fetus doesn't get enough nutrients or oxygen from the placenta."

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    The trial's hope was Viagra "can open up some blood vessels in the placenta and then can help the growth of the fetus," Pammi said.

    But the trial's results revealed the drug was "associated with the babies developing a blood vessel disease in the lungs and with an increase in the risk of death after birth. The condition is essentially a type of high blood pressure in the lungs."

    Of the 183 mothers who were part of the trial, half were treated with sildenafil and the other half received placebo. Nineteen babies born to the women treated with the drug died, 11 of them due to the lung disorder. Six babies were born with the lung disorder and survived.

    Nine babies born to women treated with the placebo died, but none of them had the lung disorder. Three babies with the lung disorder were born to women who were treated with the placebo, and they all survived.

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    What is preeclampsia?

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines preeclampsia as “the new onset of high blood pressure (more than or equal to 140/90 mmHg) on two occasions, at least four hours apart, or blood pressure readings of more than or equal to 160/110 mmHg in a woman with previously normal blood pressure.”

    When a woman who has always had normal blood pressure levels suddenly experiences high blood pressure during her pregnancy, she is experiencing preeclampsia.

    Preeclampsia, which typically happens in the third trimester of pregnancy or even postpartum, is only one type of high blood pressure-related conditions that women can experience before, during, of after pregnancy. Others include chronic hypertension, chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia, and gestational hypertension. According to the CDC, preeclampsia can occur together with another type of high blood pressure condition.

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that preeclampsia is a disorder that can also affect other organs inside a woman’s body. For instance, aside from preeclampsia, she may also exhibit signs which can point to the possibility that other systems in her body are not functioning normally, such as proteinuria, which refers to an abnormal amount of protein in her urine.

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    When the condition of a woman with preeclampsia worsens, she might manifest what the ACOG calls “severe features,” such as a low number of blood platelets, abnormal kidney or liver function, upper abdominal pain, severe headaches, and fluid in her lungs.

    The specific cause of preeclampsia, but there are several factors that may make a woman more prone to the condition. According to the ACOG, these factors include:

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    • First-time pregnancy
    • Experience of preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, or a history of preeclampsia
    • A history of kidney disease, chronic hypertension, or both
    • Being 40 years old or older
    • Multiple pregnancy (i.e., when a woman is pregnant with twins, triplets, etc.)
    • The presence of medical conditions such as diabetes, thrombophilia (a condition where the blood is more prone to clotting), or lupus (an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues and organs)
    • Obesity
    • Conception of the baby via in vitro fertilization (IVF)

    Preeclampsia can pose significant risks to the health of both the mother and the baby. First, a mom who suffers from preeclampsia may have to deliver prematurely. The ACOG says that it is possible for preeclampsia patients to be recommended by their doctors to give birth once they reach 37 weeks of pregnancy. In situations where it looks as if the baby might not be doing well, it might even be possible that the mom be recommended to give birth even earlier.

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    According to the CDC, high blood pressure during pregnancy impacts a mom’s blood vessels, including those found in the umbilical cord. This can therefore make it difficult for the child to get the adequate amount of oxygen and nutrients he needs in utero. This event might not only lead to preterm delivery, but even to low birth weight.

    On the other hand, pregnant women who have experienced preeclampsia might be at greater risk of experiencing conditions such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease later in life. The ACOG also says that a woman who has experienced preeclampsia once may go through it again if she gets pregnant again in the future.

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    Another possible complication that women can experience from preeclampsia is the HELLP (hemolysis, liver enzymes, and low platelet count) syndrome. The ACOG describes what happens to women who suffer from this condition: “[R]ed blood cells are damaged or destroyed, blood clotting is impaired, and the liver can bleed internally, causing chest or abdominal pain.” The HELLP syndrome can cause either lifelong health issues or death.

    Finally, one more complication related to preeclampsia is eclampsia, which is a condition where a woman experiences seizures even though she does not have epilepsy.

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    How to prevent preeclampsia

    Even though you may not be currently pregnant, there are things you can do to reduce the possibility that you experience preeclampsia, especially if you are planning on getting pregnant in the future. According to the ACOG, one way to do this is by identifying whether you are exhibiting any of the risk factors cited above, and taking the steps needed to address them.

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    For instance, women who are obese but want to have a child in the future might find it helpful to lose some weight prior to getting pregnant. Those who are living with conditions such as hypertension may have to seek the advice of a health professional who can help them figure out whether their hypertension is under control and whether it has affected their health.

    During pregnancy, the CDC advises women to be prompt in attending appointments with their health care providers, to make sure everything is going smoothly. Other good practices to consider is discussing with their health care providers which medicine they can take to treat their preeclampsia, regularly checking their blood pressure levels at home with the use of their own monitors, and, finally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

    Since preeclampsia can also happen postpartum, the CDC also recommends women to continue monitoring themselves for possible symptoms of preeclampsia, and to immediately reach out to their health care providers if these symptoms keep manifesting or worsen.

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