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Placental abruption: Can a genetic test predict and prevent it?

Childbirth is a common occurrence, and through the years, advances in medical practices and procedures have decreased the risks of injury and death to both mother and baby. While great strides in medicine have reduced pregnancy complications, there are still some instances where situations arise that increase the risk of injury or death during childbirth. Placental abruption is one complication that occurs during seemingly routine delivery situations. Breakthroughs may help put this menace on the back burner.

What is placental abruption?

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus at some point during pregnancy. It can cause the baby’s oxygen and food supply to be cut off, and the mother to excessively bleed. It is a rare complication, but when it happens, the mortality rate to mother and baby is higher. If nothing else, the baby may suffer brain damage as a result of the lack of oxygen to the brain.

What role might genetics play?

In a sweeping study conducted by the University of Washington School of Public Health, scientists discovered previously undetected diversity in genes that provide vital placental support and function. It may mean that genetic markers could indicate a mother’s predisposition to suffering placental abruption during pregnancy. The study identified genetic variations for those women who had the placenta separate. Identifying women who have a predisposition to placental breaks means closer monitoring during pregnancy to detect and possibly even repair the abruption before permanent damage occurs.

Placental abruption is rare, but it can be a fatal complication during pregnancy and childbirth for both mother and baby. It may be difficult to detect, which makes long-lasting complications for the baby more likely through lack of fetal development and brain damage resulting from oxygen deprivation. Because the symptoms of placental abruption can be challenging to detect, it may go untreated until childbirth. At that point, the damage inflicted is irreversible. Advancing detection and subsequent treatment is a matter of life and death for mother and baby.