FRIDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that pregnant women with the autoimmune disease lupus may have a twofold increased risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
Preeclampsia can lead to serious health problems such as seizure, stroke and organ failure and cause the death of the mother and/or baby.
The researchers also found that the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) during pregnancy was associated with a statistically insignificant increased risk of preeclampsia. These medications are used to treat lupus and other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, although their use during pregnancy is rare.
The slightly higher risk associated with antirheumatic drugs could be explained by the severity of autoimmune disease among users, according to the study, which was published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research. This class of medications includes methotrexate (brand names Rheumatrex and Trexall), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil, Quineprox), etanercept (Enbrel) and adalimumab (Humira).
Understanding how their use affects women with autoimmune disease is important, especially during pregnancy, lead author Kristin Palmsten, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a journal news release.
Palmsten and her colleagues looked at data on nearly 307,000 pregnancies among almost 225,000 women in the province of British Columbia, Canada.
"Our findings uphold previous evidence, showing that women with [lupus] had twice the risk of developing preeclampsia," she said. "The statistically non-significant increase in preeclampsia risk found for DMARDs was reduced when we more fully accounted for the potential effect of the autoimmune diseases, suggesting that the underlying disease or severity of the disease was likely contributing to the increased risk of preeclampsia among DMARD users."
Further research is needed to confirm the findings, and studies should focus on use of DMARDs and preeclampsia in women with specific autoimmune diseases, the researchers concluded.
The new study found a link between lupus and preeclampsia. It did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The Preeclampsia Foundation has more about preeclampsia.
SOURCE: Arthritis Care & Research, news release, Oct. 31, 2012
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