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Could a little dose of salt be the key to curing pre-eclampsia?

The role of salt in the diet of pregnant women is to be examined in new research looking at the causes of pre-eclampsia — a potentially life-threatening condition to mother and baby.

The research team at The University of Nottingham’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology unit at the City Hospital have been awarded more than £470,000 by the British Heart Foundation. The funding is part of the BHF’s new research strategy which has committed half a billion pounds to cardiac research in the next five years.

Pre-eclampsia is potentially life-threatening to both mother and baby and the only way to cure it is to deliver the baby, sometimes prematurely. Clinically, the condition begins with sudden onset of high blood pressure and protein in the urine and affects up to six per cent of pregnant women.

Dr Hiten Mistry and his team will be looking at the effect of salt on pre-eclampsia after some surprising early test results. Usually, in people who are not pregnant, a reduction in salt intake reduces blood pressure. However, recent investigations have shown that the exact opposite is true for pregnant women.

Dr Mistry said: “Pre-eclampsia is often a serious condition, which can mean the baby has to be delivered preterm (before 40 weeks).  Pre-eclampsia also leaves both mother and baby with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. During pregnancy women can lose the ability to retain salt, so we aim to see whether increasing salt intake for a small amount of time during pregnancy may help to lower blood pressure and improve outcomes for women suffering from pre-eclampsia.”

Susan, from Leicester, was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia whilst carrying her first child Kayan. She said: “I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia during a routine check-up with my midwife, my blood pressure was very high and there was protein in my urine. At 34 weeks I went to go and see my doctor at Leicester General Hospital, he said that my labour may have to be induced. When Kayan was born he only weighed 3lb 10oz and spent two weeks in the hospital’s neonatal care unit. Kayan is now a happy, healthy four year-old. However, not all mothers and babies are as lucky as we were so it’s great to see that more research is being done to understand this condition.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research by The University of Nottingham could prove vital in our efforts to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women. Pre-eclampsia affects around six per cent of pregnant women and is a major cause of maternal death. It’s only by funding more research like this that we’ll see the burden of this disease on pregnant women decrease. The BHF exists to end the suffering caused by all forms of heart and circulatory conditions and we’re committed to funding the very best researchers doing the highest quality research in order to achieve that goal.”

Story credits

More information is available from  Dr Hiten Mistry in the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham


Emma Rayner – Media Relations Manager


Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793
                   Location: University Park
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