WOMEN without children and who are not pregnant hold the key to a ground-breaking study of pregnancy and women’s health.
The OxWatch study is the first of its kind to research how women’s wellbeing and lifestyle affects their health in later life, especially after having children. To build a full and detailed picture, thousands of young Oxfordshire women who have not yet started their families will be invited to join the pioneering project.
Women who take part in the study will be asked to complete a wellbeing and lifestyle questionnaire and will have simple and easy measurements taken including a blood pressure, a blood test and a heart scan.
The research team will then follow the women through any subsequent pregnancy and beyond. By observing changes in health measures during and after pregnancy and comparing them to those noted before pregnancy, new understanding of why some women develop conditions such as diabetes, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain or anxiety and depression will be gained. The team hope this will lead to better preparation for pregnancy, improved methods of preventing complications and earlier detection of problems when they do arise.
Researchers from the Women’s Centre at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital have joined forces with the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine of the University of Oxford to make this study possible.
Dr Ingrid Granne, Consultant Gynaecologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “This study is unique, as most pregnancy studies focus on women during and after pregnancy. No previous studies have provided such a comprehensive overview of women’s health and wellbeing before they get pregnant. We hope OxWatch will help us understand how pre-pregnancy health affects a pregnancy and how the pregnancy itself affects women’s long-term health.
“We will then understand more clearly which women are likely to develop different conditions, both in pregnancy and in later life. This could help identify women who are susceptible to certain conditions much earlier so we can give better care.”
The OxWatch team wants to recruit 300 women in the first pilot-phase and then expand the numbers to 12,000 women in Oxfordshire and other national centres.
Dr Granne, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology added: “Recruiting women before their first pregnancy is key to the success of this ambitious project. We would be delighted to hear from those who are hoping to become pregnant soon, who are 18 to 40-years-old and live in Oxfordshire.
“We really hope lots of people will be inspired to join and contribute to a better understanding of pregnancy, and to better health and wellbeing for all women.”
If or when women taking part in the study become pregnant the initial observations will be updated together with ultrasound scans at seven and 32 weeks, in addition to the routine scans at 12 and 20-weeks.
Research midwife Ali Chevassut said: “Once pregnant, women will be offered an early ultrasound scan at seven weeks and we’ll be keeping an eye on both mum and baby throughout the pregnancy. We will see our mums for a further visit after the baby is born.”
The OxWatch team are just as interested in those women who do not want to have a child or want to delay pregnancy until much later. We will need to identify their health issues and important changes in wellbeing and lifestyle as they get older. “For us, every young woman matters,” said Dr Granne.
Nadia Boin, a technical sales engineer from Oxford, was one of the first women to get involved in the project, inspired by her late father.
She said: “My dad passed away a year and a half ago from a major heart attack and he had cancer before that. He took part in some research projects and I always believed that supporting research was a good thing. In healthcare, you cannot make progress without research.
“I planned to have children in the future and I have always been active and take an interest in my own health. So I took part for a combination of reasons.”
Shortly after completing the first phase assessment, Nadia became pregnant and had a son, Evan, earlier this year.
She added: “Taking part was exactly what I expected it to be and only took up a small amount of time. I am really interested in the results of this work. I had a good pregnancy and a good labour and I was active throughout so I am curious to see what comes out of the wider study and how that will help women in the future.”
OxWatch is part of the Oxford Safer Pregnancy Research Alliance (Osprea), a team of doctors, scientists, researchers, midwives, nurses and support staff who work with women to lead research into women’s health. Osprea is a collaboration between Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Oxford. In 2013, more than 800 women took part in Osprea studies.
For more information on taking part in the OxWATCH study visit www.osprea.ox.ac.uk/oxwatch/ or phone (01865) 572259