Doctors at The Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne have begun prescribing pregnant women at high risk of pre-eclampsia with low doses of aspirin.
Aspirin and early detection are helping to save the lives of Australian women and babies at risk of dying from the pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia.
Researchers at The Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne discovered in the lab that low-dose aspirin inhibits the abnormal production of two particular proteins associated with the condition.
Due to the research and a growing body of evidence around aspirin, Professor Shaun Brennecke, the hospital's Director of Maternal-Foetal Medicine has begun recommending women at high risk of the condition to start taking aspirin early in their pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia affects one-in-20 pregnancies and often has no symptoms.
High blood pressure and protein in the urine are, however, are key features of the condition.
Around the world 76,000 women and about half a million babies die every year as a result of pre-eclampsia.
Fortunately in Australia only about one in 10,000 pregnant women will die as a result of pre-eclampsia.
While very rare, it can still have a great impact on families.
In 2011, Victorian woman Emma Wells almost died from pre-eclampsia after her kidneys and liver shut down shortly after delivering her baby Max, who had died in-utero, at 29 weeks gestation.
Thanks to Prof Brennecke and his team at The Royal Women's Hospital, Ms Wells gave birth to a full term baby earlier this year .
Using a new test to determine if she would go on to develop pre-eclampsia again, she was prescribed aspirin early in the pregnancy.
Until recently predicting precisely which women will go on to develop pre-eclampsia hasn't been very good, says Prof Brennecke.
"If you can target the right women and treat them specifically with low dose aspirin from early on in pregnancy then the impact on reducing particularly the severer forms of pre-eclampsia is good," he said.
Early detection involves assessing women at 11-13 weeks gestation.
The assessment involves a blood pressure check, an ultrasound to look at the blood flow in the uterus, as well as a blood test.
"The combination of those factors allows you to identify women at high risk of pre-eclampsia and it is that group that would be best managed by giving low dose aspirin," said Prof Brennecke.
Researchers are now "very close" to having a much more focused way of identifying women at particular risk of developing the potentially deadly pregnancy complication, he says.