A new urine test developed by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center could accurately and rapidly diagnose preeclampsia in earlier stages of pregnancy.
That, in turn, could lead to earlier treatment of the potentially deadly ailment.
That’s what researchers are reporting in a new study published in Lancet’s E-Clinical Medicine.
Preeclampsia is a condition characterized by high blood pressure and unique proteins in urine. It’s one of the world’s deadliest pregnancy complications.
Rates have increased over the past two decades. Now, it affects 1 in 20 women during their pregnancies.
Reducing risks for mothers and babies means detecting potential problems as soon as possible. If the new test receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it could arm doctors with an affordable tool to prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes.
“This test could have a major impact on the health of pregnant women and their babies worldwide,” Dr. Kara Rood, lead study author and maternal-fetal medicine physician at the Wexner Medical Center, has said.
Rood added that by providing a timely and accurate diagnosis, it allows a patient’s doctor to provide closer observations to pregnancies complicated by preeclampsia.
Experts say the test’s simplicity and accuracy would be a game-changer for pregnant women with preeclampsia.
“We are very encouraged by the first clinical trial results of this diagnostic test,” Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, has said.
Tsigas said they have been watching its development for several years and are hopeful that strong results in a confirmatory larger clinical trial across diverse healthcare settings will eliminate the current ambiguity that often surrounds preeclampsia diagnosis.
The importance of early detection
Despite its prevalence, preeclampsia often goes undetected initially because the symptoms, such as headaches and swelling, mimic those of a regular pregnancy.
Preeclampsia also evolves differently for different women, further complicating the diagnosis process.
“Some women can have the disease for weeks before having symptoms, whereas other women can progress to a dangerous level within days,” explained Rood.
Early detection is the best way to mitigate the high risks involved.
“By providing a timely and accurate diagnosis, it allows a patient’s doctor to provide closer observations to pregnancies complicated by preeclampsia,” Rood said.
There are other benefits of the urine test as well.
“Ultimately, this could decrease unnecessary hospital admissions, interventions, and help with certainty of preeclampsia in cases where it is challenging for providers to diagnose,” said Rood.
How the test works
Rood explained that with the urine test “accurate results can be delivered in three minutes.”
The presence of preeclampsia is detected by a red dye in the paper that reacts to the characteristically unique proteins, erasing doubt for diagnosing doctors.
The test would be administered by doctors in prenatal appointments. Eventually, the study authors hope, it will be available for at-home use as well.
“An at-home test can empower women to be an active participant in their prenatal care,” Rood said.
“It could even eventually lead to more home-based monitoring which could prove particularly useful in rural settings,” added Tsigas.
Preeclampsia now affects 1 in 20 women during their pregnancies.
The researchers say the simple and affordable test could be available in clinics within two years.