File photo: Pre-eclampsia is one of the biggest threats to pregnant women and unborn babies. Picture: Reuters

London - Thousands of women could be spared dangerous pregnancy complications thanks to a new method of screening for pre-eclampsia.

A technique developed at King’s College London doubles the rate at which the problem is detected, a major study revealed.

The screening programme, which uses data already gathered in the standard 12-week pregnancy check, could prevent nearly 3 000 cases of pre-eclampsia a year.

This could significantly reduce the number of babies and women killed or harmed by the condition each year, experts say.

Pre-eclampsia is one of the biggest threats to pregnant women and unborn babies.

It is caused by reduced blood flow through the placenta, restricting the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the baby, which can inhibit growth.

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Severe cases of pre-eclampsia develop in about one to two percent of pregnancies, and in extreme cases can lead to seizures, coma or death.

Giving women a low dose of aspirin every day cuts the risk by 70 percent, but it must be given before 16 weeks of pregnancy.

The King’s team found they could double this detection rate to 82 percent with their new screening tool.

This technique takes medical history, blood pressure readings and the results of the ultrasound scan and blood test performed at the 12-week scan. The data is entered into software, which instantly produces an accurate risk score.