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Up to 8% of pregnant women develop the high blood pressure of pre-eclampsia, a complication that can lead to the convulsions of eclampsia, and possibly death. Eclampsia, which is more common in less-developed countries, is responsible for about 10 000 pregnancy-related deaths per year worldwide. Although anticonvulsants such as magnesium sulfate have been widely used to prevent the condition, conclusive scientific evidence that such approaches are effective were lacking.
Now, a new international randomized trial involving nearly 10 000 pregnant women in 33 countries demonstrates that magnesium sulfate, an inexpensive drug, can substantially reduce the risk of eclampsia among pregnant women with pre-eclampsia (Lancet. 2002;359:1877-1890). In the study, women who received magnesium sulfate had a 58% lower risk of eclampsia and a 45% lower risk of death than women given placebo.
Stephenson J. Reducing Pregnancy Risk. JAMA. 2002;288(2):155. doi:10.1001/jama.288.2.155-JWM20007-4-1