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Written by:
Paul Holland
19 Jul 2023

Up to 3,500 first time mums are due to take part in a study led by Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge to understand why some will develop pre-eclampsia and placental complications during pregnancy and whether it affects their long-term health.

The POPPY study (Preconception to pOst-partum study of cardiometabolic health in Primigravid PregnancY) is funded by Wellcome and is being carried out in Cambridge, Glasgow and up to four other research centres in London.

In the first large scale study of its kind in the UK, women are being monitored before, during and after their first pregnancy to see what factors might be influencing the health of their placenta and their long-term cardiovascular risk. It’s hoped that by understanding this risk, the health of women who develop placental complications can also be improved over their lifetime.

Placental complications affect around 1 in 10 pregnancies and includes:

  • pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure with kidney/liver/brain involvement)
  • gestational hypertension (high blood pressure in pregnancy)
  • fetal growth restriction (baby being small).

These conditions can lead to serious complications for both mother and baby if not monitored or treated.

High blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, autoimmune conditions, age and being obese before pregnancy are just some of the factors likely to increase the risk of pre-eclampsia and placental dysfunction, but it’s unclear exactly why and whether there are other causes.

In addition, women who experience placental complications are twice as likely to develop heart disease and diabetes later in life, compared with women who have a healthy pregnancy.

It’s not clear however whether placental complications cause heart disease and diabetes directly, or whether these conditions happen in women who already have some underlying and/or unknown health issues before pregnancy.

Women thought to be at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia are advised to take a 75 to 150mg daily dose of aspirin from the twelfth week of pregnancy until birth to reduce the risk of developing this condition.  If a woman develops pre-eclampsia, the only way to cure it is to deliver the baby, normally at around 37 to 38 weeks of pregnancy, although this can be earlier in more severe cases.