Pregnant women living under stressful conditions and those who use tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs have compromised immune system responses that threaten the health of both mother and baby, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University Medical Center.
Richard L. Auten, M.D.
PHOTO CREDIT: Duke University Medical Center
The results suggest that elevated levels of inflammatory biomarkers called cytokines – small protein molecules that transmit signals within the immune system – are an early risk factor for premature birth and infant lung and brain injuries. Screening pregnant women for high cytokine levels and stressful social factors such as family violence, poverty or substance abuse could detect women at highest risk for poor outcomes, said Julie Hofheimer, Ph.D., lead author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"This study suggests we may be able to identify women at risk at a time when earlier treatment has the potential to prevent later problems," Hofheimer said. The researchers presented their findings on May 3, 2004, at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Francisco. The study was sponsored by the National institutes of Health.
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