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Preeclampsia now affects 1 in 20 pregnant women. Getty Images

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, told Healthline. “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 accurately 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, told Healthline. “We’ve 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.”

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.

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.

While we are still a ways out from seeing this new test on local pharmacy shelves, it won’t be too long before it’s available in clinics.

Without any foreseen barriers preventing approval, the study authors suspect the FDA will sign off on the test fairly quickly.

“In fact, a multi-center trial is currently under way and should be completed within two years,” Rood confirmed. “This test, once approved, will be available to doctors around the world who can use it to identify cases of preeclampsia.”

Researchers at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center are working on a new urine test that can detect preeclampsia earlier than current tests.

The timely diagnosis would allow doctors to start treatments for this potentially deadly condition.

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.