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Pregnancy risk: Pre-eclampsia higher in certain immigrant groups, study finds

A new study suggests women from certain immigrant communities are at an elevated risk of developing a severe form of pre-eclampsia in which blood pressure becomes dangerously high during pregnancy.

The findings could help doctors identify pregnant women who may need special medical attention, said the lead author of the study, Joel Ray, a physician and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Mild forms of pre-eclampsia are fairly common, affecting up to 10 per cent of pregnancies. But in severe cases, blood pressure skyrockets, causing a host of complications. For instance, it can undermine the placenta, the blood-rich tissue that connects mother and fetus. If left unchecked, pre-eclampsia can be fatal for both mom and child.

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For the study, the researchers reviewed the medical record of 118,000 women who immigrated to Ontario between 1985 and 2000 and later gave birth to one or more children.

The analysis revealed women from the Caribbean were at the highest risk. There were 6.8 cases of severe pre-eclampsia for every 1,000 births. Women from Hispanic-American and Sub-Saharan African countries weren't much better off – with 6.7 cases per 1,000 births.

By contrast, the rate was substantially lower among women from advanced industrialized countries – 1.9 cases per 1,000 births.

Dr. Ray speculated that some of these women may carry genes that boost their chances of developing severe pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. (High blood pressure is an extremely common ailment for people of African descent.) Even so, the chances of complications can be reduced. Previous studies have shown that taking Aspirin, under medical supervision, after the 12th week of pregnancy can lower the odds of getting pre-eclampsia, said Dr. Ray.

The findings were published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

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