Researchers 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.
"In developing nations, preeclampsia is a leading cause of death for both mothers and babies. In Ghana, it's responsible for 18 per cent of maternal deaths," said Enoch Anto, the study researcher from Edith Cowan University in Australia.
"But it can be treated using medication that lowers blood pressure once diagnosed," Anto added.
For the study published in the EPMA Journal, researchers assessed the health status of over 500 pregnant Ghanaian women using Suboptimal Health Questionnaire. 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.
The researchers found that 61 per cent of women who scored high on the questionnaire went on to develop preeclampsia, compared with just 17 per cent of women who scored low.
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 per cent of cases.
According to the researchers, preeclampsia was very treatable once identified, so providing an early warning could save thousands of lives.
"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," Anto said.