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Condom Use Linked to Pregnancy-Induced High Blood Pressure

A new study has found that the use of condoms prior to a pregnancy may increase the risk of women developing a dangerous health condition known as preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.

Reuters Health is reporting that the study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas found that women who are not exposed to their partner's sperm prior to pregnancy because of the use of condoms or other barrier methods of birth control can have up to a 6.5 fold increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

One theory as to why preeclampsia develops with the use of barrier methods has to do with the human immune system which naturally activates when it detects the presence of what it deems a "foreign" substance, or something that is not of the "self." For instance, during pregnancy, the fetus activates a mother's immune system because the baby is not entirely her "self." Thus, a successful pregnancy depends on the constraint of maternal immunity. Preeclampsia occurs when that constraint fails.  

The findings in the Baylor study suggest that when the uterus is exposed to sperm, the woman's body develops an immunity to it and no longer reacts to it as if it were a foreign genetic material. However, when a woman's body has only recently been introduced to the sperm because she stopped using these methods while trying to conceive, she may have an immune reaction that damages the walls of blood vessels and contributes to the development of preeclampsia.

"Women who used barrier methods who had been having sex with their partners for less than 4 months prior to getting pregnant had a 6.5-fold increased risk of getting preeclampsia, compared with women who did not use barrier methods and had been in a sexual relationship for more than 12 months," said Dr. Jon Einarsson, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Baylor.

Einarsson's study involved 113 women who experienced preeclampsia during their pregnancy and 226 women who did not. The study found that those who had used barrier contraceptive methods and had only been having sex with their partners for a short period of time were at the greatest risk of developing the condition. 

While the cause of preeclampsia is still unknown, it affects about seven percent of pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The condition poses a risk to both the mother and the developing fetus. In severe cases, it can lead to maternal seizures and even death in rare circumstances.

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