Preeclampsia, a condition that causes the blood pressure of pregnant women to rise to dangerous levels, is one of the leading causes for maternal fatalities worldwide. In the U.S., it is the number one cause of maternal and infant death, and cases of the condition have risen by 25% in the past two decades. And in developing countries, it’s even more prevalent.
These statistics led researchers at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia to develop the Suboptimal Health Questionnaire. Originally developed in 2009 by Wei Wang, a professor at ECU’s School of Health and Medical Sciences, the survey measures “fatigue, heart health, digestion, immunity, and mental health” to form a score that helps predict the likelihood of chronic diseases.
The study, published by EurakAlert, showed that 61% of women who scored high on the survey developed preeclampsia. When looked at alongside blood tests that measure calcium and magnesium levels, the rate of accurate preeclampsia predictions increased to 80%.
While there is no cure for preeclampsia aside from delivery—diagnosing the condition early on can help protect both parent and baby. Preeclampsia symptoms can decrease with the use of medicine to lower blood pressure, blood and urine tests to monitor the state of the condition, and bed rest. Seizures from eclampsia, the more severe condition that can develop from preeclampsia and causes seizures in pregnant women, can be prevented by the use of magnesium injections. Doctors may also deliver the baby early, if symptoms are severe enough. Steroid injections can make the baby’s lungs grow faster, to prevent further complications during birth.
Enoch Anto, the Australian Professor Wang’s PhD candidate, said that “providing an early warning could save thousands of lives,” particularly in developing countries where preeclampsia rates soar. “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.
Of course, a high score on the survey isn’t a surefire indicator of developing the condition. 17% of women who scored low were also diagnosed with preeclampsia. But in the U.S., over 10,000 babies die each year from preeclampsia. Black women and their babies are three times more likely than any other race to die from the condition. If a simple, inexpensive survey can start to decrease those numbers, it seems well worth looking into.