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Simple test predicts dangerous pregnancy disorder

Australian researchers have developed a way to predict the onset of a deadly pregnancy condition that kills 76,000 women and half a million babies each year, mostly in developing countries.

Woman holding pregnancy test

Woman holding pregnancy test. / Photo: iStock

EurekAlert | EDITH COWAN UNIVERSITY

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Researchers from Edith Cowan University in Perth Western Australia have developed a simple, low-cost way to predict preeclampsia, one of the leading causes of maternal-foetal mortality worldwide.

Preeclampsia can cause devastating complications for women and babies, including brain and liver injury in mothers and premature birth.

Survey gives early warning

ECU researchers assessed the health status of 593 pregnant Ghanaian women using the Suboptimal Health Questionnaire.

The Suboptimal Health Questionnaire was developed in 2009 by Professor Wei Wang from ECU's School of Health and Medical Sciences. Combining scores for fatigue, heart health, digestion, immunity, and mental health, the questionnaire provides an overall 'suboptimal health score' that can help predict chronic diseases.

Professor Wang's Ph.D. candidate Enoch Anto found that 61 percent of women who scored high on the questionnaire went on to develop preeclampsia, compared with just 17 per cent of women who scored low.

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When these results were combined with blood tests that measured women's calcium and magnesium levels, the researchers were able to accurately predict the development of preeclampsia in almost 80 percent of cases.

Mr Anto said preeclampsia was very treatable once identified, so providing an early warning could save thousands of lives.

"In developing nations, preeclampsia is a leading cause of death for both mothers and babies. In Ghana, it's responsible for 18 percent of maternal deaths," Mr. Anto said.

"But it can be treated using medication that lowers blood pressure once diagnosed.

"Both blood tests for magnesium and calcium and the Suboptimal Health Questionnaire are inexpensive, making this ideally suited to the developing world where preeclampsia causes the most suffering."

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