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Early Testing for Life Threatening Complications During Pregnancy?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Jan 28, 2023

Early Testing for Life Threatening Complications During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy may be an exciting time for families, but it can come with complications as well. One of the best ways to prevent and deal with potentially life threatening complications during pregnancy is by learning about them as early as possible. Here is a quick look at how to avoid life threatening complications during pregnancy, and if placental hormone testing can help.

Avoid Life Threatening Complications During Pregnancy: What Is Placental Hormone Testing?

Placental hormone testing is a kind of test that helps check that the fetus is developing on schedule, and to monitor a woman’s placenta. The test looks at a hormone called human placental lactogen that is released during pregnancy by the placenta.

The levels of human placental lactogen rise as a fetus develops, then they drop after birth. The levels rise slowly throughout the pregnancy, typically appearing about 10 days into the pregnancy. However it can occur up to two weeks into a pregnancy.

The test is similar to a blood test. Doctors may ask their pregnant patients to have one done. Typically, the test can be done 6 weeks into a pregnancy.

Avoid Life Threatening Complications During Pregnancy: Does Placental Hormone Testing Prevent Birth Defects?

In the past, doctors were not sure if biochemical tests to check a fetus’s well-being were beneficial for babies and mothers. One study decided to look if placental hormone testing could help people avoid birth defects during pregnancy.

That study found that measuring human placental lactogen could be helpful for high-risk pregnancies. However, the evidence from that study was not enough to evaluate the use of the tests in regular pregnancies.

Another study looked into how disorders could be detected earlier in pregnancy when they test the placenta’s hormone levels. According to the study, 1 in 10 women experience pregnancy disorders.

The mother’s body needs almost all the organs to work properly to handle pregnancy and ensure proper fetal development. If a pregnant woman cannot handle the changes, it can cause:

  • Fetal overgrowth
  • Fetal growth restriction
  • Other conditions

These complications can make labor difficult and potentially dangerous for the mother. Moreover, said complications can cause long-term medical issues in the baby such as:

Disorders that occur during pregnancy are often diagnosed late in pregnancy, typically around the second to third trimester. However, the disorder would likely have a huge impact on the baby and mother by that time. The goal of that study was to find out if earlier testing could identify risks early in pregnancy.

Life Threatening Complications During Pregnancy: Earlier Detection

Researchers created a map of the hormonal proteins from placentas taken from test mice, and compared these to the human placenta datasets along with their pregnancy outcomes. The researchers found a lot of overlap when they compared the results. They found that about a third of the identified proteins changes in a woman when they have a pregnancy disorder.

They also found abnormal hormone levels in a mother’s blood as early as their first trimester. The abnormal hormone levels were found in women who got gestational diabetes, which is normally detected in the 24th to 28th weeks of pregnancy.

Another finding the study had was that they were able to identify specific transcription factors. Those factors are proteins in a cell that turn genes on or off. The proteins can control placental hormone production, helping researchers learn more about how they can prevent pregnancy disorders.

The scientists also checked to see if they could detect those proteins during pregnancy. They used a separate study where pregnancy outcomes for women were tracked. The scientists found that the blood samples had biomarkers from the genes, even early in a pregnancy. Therefore, finding those biomarkers could diagnose possible complications earlier and allow doctors to start earlier treatment.

Key Takeaway

Placental hormone testing could be beneficial to detect high risk pregnancies or other complications earlier in the gestation period that would otherwise be found later on in a pregnancy. It may help in avoiding life threatening complications during pregnancy.

However, more research needs to be done to determine that placental hormone testing is ideal for regular use for detecting pregnancy disorders.

Learn more about Pregnancy Complications here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Jan 28, 2023

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