Pregnancy study hopes to recruit volunteers in Glasgow

A new study aimed at women planning their first pregnancy has begun recruitment in Glasgow.

The POPPY study - led in Scotland by the University of Glasgow, in collaboration with study leads at the University of Cambridge and funded by Wellcome - aims to better explain why some women develop pre-eclampsia and other conditions, with the goal of improving women’s long-term cardiovascular health after pregnancy.

The study team in Glasgow are now keen to recruit volunteers for this important national study and are looking for women who are planning their first pregnancy in the next 12 months, as well as women who have not been pregnant before and who are not planning to become pregnant within the next year.

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can affect pregnant women from the 20th week of pregnancy, with symptoms which include high blood pressure and protein in the urine, and can lead to serious complications if not monitored or treated. Women who experience these and other complications in pregnancy - such as diabetes, or who have small babies - have an up to three-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease in later life, compared with women who have an uncomplicated pregnancy.

The POPPY study (Preconception to pOst-partum study of cardiometabolic health in Primigravid PregnancY) will assess risk factors for heart disease and diabetes in women actively trying to conceive, before and during pregnancy, and measure those against data from women in the study who do not get pregnant. Researchers hope this will enable them to see whether pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia make a difference to heart health, and how best to reduce these risk factors and improve women’s health during pregnancy and in the future.

The study plans to recruit 3,500 participants from hospitals across the UK, including 3000 participants who are intending to become pregnant within the next 12 months, and 500 participants who are not intending to become pregnant. In Glasgow the study team are hoping to recruit around 600 women. All those recruited to the study will receive a health assessment and will receive compensation for their travel and time. Tests can include blood and urine sampling, an echocardiogram and step test.

Prof Christian Delles, the lead for the POPPY study in Scotland, said: "Ultimately, the POPPY study will help to shape strategies that will optimise women’s health, which is why we are keen to encourage women to come forward.

"We are pleased to see this study underway in Scotland, and as well as being part of an important study, participants will receive information concerning their blood pressure and other measurements. We hope the information we get from this study will help us better predict which women will develop pre-eclampsia, and also better understand the effects of placental syndromes on future cardiovascular health in women."

Dr Helen Casey, the clinical lead for POPPY in Glasgow, said: "With up to 6% of pregnant women experiencing pre-eclampsia in the UK, it is vital we increase our understanding of this condition. Women who have placental complications such as pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure in pregnancy and fetal growth restriction, where the baby is small, have an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes in later life, when compared to women who have a healthy pregnancy.

"Even though most of us know someone who has unfortunately experienced one of these pregnancy complications, the exact cause of these conditions and the link to this future risk is not yet fully understood. We would like to encourage the women of Glasgow to be part of our research and are looking forward to working with them to improve women’s health in the future."

Gemma Morton, from Glasgow, developed preeclampsia in the later stages of both of her pregnancies, leading to traumatic birth experiences as well as health complications after each of the births. She first experienced preeclampsia when 37 weeks pregnant with her son Theodore, now three year-old, when she suffered a sudden and unusually severe headache. Gemma was diagnosed with preeclampsia and admitted to hospital. Due to the condition, she was then told she would have to be induced - an experience Gemma found traumatic, made more difficult as Theodore required four days in a neonatal intensive care unit after his birth.

While the second pregnancy with her daughter Lottie, now five months-old, started smoothly, at 37 weeks Gemma began to feel unwell again, having developed preeclampsia for a second time. Once again Gemma had to be induced due to high blood pressure, and while Lottie was born without complication, Gemma found herself very unwell and had to remain in hospital for a week after the birth. After being discharged, she had to remain on medication and was monitored for more than two months before the symptoms of the preeclampsia finally went away.

Gemma said: "Before I experienced it, I had no idea what preeclampsia really was, or the impact it could have on your pregnancy, and also that it could make you so unwell afterwards. I think people think it is a run-of-the-mill thing, but it’s much more serious. I had no idea that it could lead to impacts later in life, that it would make me more likely to have other conditions in the future. I think it is really important that we do all we can to understand this condition better, not just for pregnant women, but for women’s health in later life too."