HUNDREDS of babies' lives could be saved each year in the UK following the development of a test for pre-eclampsia, a condition affecting pregnant women.

The blood test gives a result in 15 minutes and can identify 96% of women at high risk of the condition.

It was developed by British scientists at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in Central London and King's College London.

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They studied a group of 625 pregnant women from right across the UK, 61% of whom were affected by pre-eclampsia.

The condition can damage the kidneys, liver and brain and lead to premature delivery, babies with a low birth weight and stillbirths.

Dr Lucy Chappell, senior lecturer in obstetrics at King's College London, said: "Current tests only detect that it's happening, rather than predicting it, and by that time the disease has progressed and likely caused organ damage.

"The test identifies women at high risk of developing pre-eclampsia, so doctors can better monitor and treat the blood pressure. It also prevents unnecessary hospitalisations of those women who are not likely to develop pre-eclampsia."

Pre-eclampsia affects one in 10 UK pregnancies and between 1% and 2% of pregnant women suffer with severe symptoms.

It usually strikes during the second half of pregnancy or soon after birth.

Besides high blood pressure, symptoms include fluid retention, severe headaches and vision problems.

Each year in the UK the condition leads to the deaths of around six or seven women and 1,000 babies.