Conference Coverage

Check for complementopathies in lupus pregnancy



– It’s important to check for complementopathies in pregnant women with lupus, according to Michelle Petri, MD, a professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

Dr. Michelle Petri

Dr. Michelle Petri

A new diagnosis being developed at Hopkins and elsewhere, complementopathies involve an inappropriate activation of the alternative pathway of complement (APC), either from a mutation in a complement control protein, or, in the case of lupus, an autoantibody against one. They’ve been implicated as a major cause of hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelets (HELLP) syndrome, a condition to which women with lupus are particularly prone.

Hopkins has developed a serum test to diagnose inappropriate APC activation in a few hours, the modified Ham test. When HELLP develops in a woman with a complementopathy, the complement inhibitor eculizumab (Soliris) is proving to be a safe alternative to pregnancy termination.

“I urge you to think about using the modified Ham test, because if it is positive, you can treat HELLP without having to stop the pregnancy,” said Dr. Petri, also codirector of the Hopkins Lupus Pregnancy Center.

Lupus management has come a long way from the days when women were counseled to avoid or terminate pregnancy. Risks remain, “but many pregnancies are successful. I think that for every woman with lupus, we do want to offer the possibility of successful pregnancy,” she said.

Disease control is key. Preterm birth, the most common adverse outcome in lupus, correlates closely with disease activity, and disease activity can be controlled with hydroxychloroquine, and, when needed, azathioprine and tacrolimus for renal flairs.

“But these kinds of basic lessons – we need hydroxychloroquine in pregnancy; we must control disease activity – are not heard out in the real world. Claims data have shown that pregnant women with lupus actually take fewer prescribed medications, and they have fewer rheumatology visits.” It’s a problem that needs to be addressed, Dr. Petri said.

Vitamin D is also important. Hopkins has shown that supplementation to hit a level of 40 ng/mL reduces both global and renal disease activity without toxicity; studies in the general population have shown reduced preeclampsia, preterm birth, and low birth weight, all concerns in lupus.

“I haven’t convinced the world of lupus how important vitamin D is,” but “I actually love it just as much as I love hydroxychloroquine,” Dr. Petri said.

Cosupplementation with calcium complicates matters. Together, they seem to reduce the risk of preeclampsia, but increase the risk of preterm birth. More needs to be known, so “for all of us with pregnancy cohorts, it’s time to start to record vitamin D and calcium levels so we can look at this,” she said.

Dr. Petri has worked with numerous companies.

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