Male Genes Cited as Likely Cause of Pre-eclampsia

2234 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
Medical professionals have linked genes present in men as one of the high risk factors that can lead to pre-eclampsia in women. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that pregnant mothers suffer from that develops in the second half of pregnancy, around 20 weeks or soon after a baby is delivered. It is characterised by high blood pressure, oedema or swelling of the body and having protein in urine.

Medical professionals have linked genes present in men as one of the high risk factors that can lead to pre-eclampsia in women.

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that pregnant mothers suffer from that develops in the second half of pregnancy, around 20 weeks or soon after a baby is delivered. It is characterised by high blood pressure, oedema or swelling of the body and having protein in urine.

The Ministry of Health data shows that pre-eclampsia is the leading cause of maternal mortality in Uganda, contributing at least 22% of all maternal deaths in 2016.
 
According to findings in the ongoing Immuno genetic study at Mulago Hospital, the KIR gene found in men has been highlighted as one of the major causes of pre-eclampsia in women. The study began in 2010 and both pregnant women with pre-eclampsia and those not suffering from the condition have participated.

Dr. Annette Nakimuli, head of Gynaecology and Obstetrics at Makerere University, revealed the findings at the ongoing 2nd Grand Doctors Conference at Hotel Africana.

Dr. Nakimuli says while there is no definite cause of pre-eclampsia, new research findings show that certain risk factors that are predominant in men play a big role in the occurrence of pre-eclapmsia in women.

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Dr. Nakimuli explains that bad KIR genes that are predominant in males can lead to pre-eclampsia after a pregnant woman's immune system rejects them leading to bad placenta development.

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Killer-Cell Immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs) are a family of cell surface proteins found on important cells of the immune system.
 
Dr. Nakimuli says that KIR genes can either be good or bad. The good ones lead to good development of a fetus's placenta. Bad ones are rejected by a mother's immune system which leads to bad placenta development and growth.

Bad placenta formation or placental insufficiency presents a number of risks to both the fetus and mother. In mothers, it can lead to pre-eclampsia, placental abruption-where the placenta pulls away from the uterine wall and preterm labour and delivery.

In babies, it can lead to cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, hypothermia, low blood sugar, little blood calcium, premature labour, ceasarean delivery, and still births.

According to data from the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2016, maternal deaths represent 18% (149 maternal deaths out of the total 852 deaths of women) of all deaths among women age 15-49.

Dr. Nakimuli says that even if the findings have been recognised both in Uganda and internationally, they cannot be used as a screening tool in clinical medicine.

 "We cannot use these finding now but they are a step in the right direction because we shall soon be able to screen spouses to determine whether they have the bad KIR gene and as such save so many mothers who would have died to pre-eclampsia," she said.

In Uganda, some people believe that pre-eclampsia is caused by witchcraft. In some circles, it is associated with adulterous women.

According to the World Health Organisation, cases of pre-eclampsia in developing countries are seven times more compared to developed countries.

Pre-eclampsia can lead to liver and kidney failure, blood clotting, pulmonary edema, seizures and maternal and infant deaths.

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include; excess weight gain, leg and hand swelling, headaches, high blood pressure, protein in urine,