Physical and Mental Health
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The Benefit of Magnesium
Eclampsia and preeclampsia are the leading causes of death for pregnant
women and their fetuses, particularly in developing countries. Physicians
believe the high blood pressure, swelling, and protein in the urine associated
with preeclampsia lead to the convulsions and coma of eclampsia.
Obstetricians generally use anticonvulsants to treat and prevent the
convulsions of eclampsia. In the U.S., magnesium sulfate has been the
drug of choice for nearly a century. Research confirms magnesium as the
most effective drug at preventing eclamptic seizures. Now magnesium sulfate
is being used increasingly to treat preeclampsia as well, with the hope
it will prevent eclampsia. A study published in the June 1, 2002, issue
of The Lancet confirms this hope.
The study, dubbed the Magpie Trial, was a large international effort
aimed at discovering the effects of magnesium sulfate on women with preeclampsia
and their children. Close to 10,000 women with preeclampsia from 33 developed
and developing countries were involved. Roughly half of the women were
randomly assigned to receive magnesium sulfate while the other half received
Use of magnesium sulfate resulted in a 58% decrease in risk of eclampsia
compared to use of the placebo. This translates to 11 fewer women in
1,000 suffering from eclampsia. The preventive effect of magnesium was
consistent regardless of the severity of the preeclampsia, the stage
of pregnancy, whether an anticonvulsant had been given prior to the trial,
and whether the woman had delivered before entry into the trial. Women
receiving magnesium sulfate also had a 45% lower risk of death than women
receiving the placebo. There appeared to be no difference in the risk
of fetal or infant death related to the use of either the drug or the
placebo. However, women receiving magnesium sulfate had a 27% lower risk
of premature detachment of the placenta.
While the benefits of using magnesium sulfate are evident, some non-serious
negative side effects were also apparent. Roughly 25% of the women receiving
the drug experienced flushing, nausea, or vomiting. Only 5% of the women
receiving the placebo experienced side effects.
Based on the results of this study, magnesium sulfate may become a mainstay
in the treatment for preeclampsia as well as eclampsia. The low cost
of the drug makes this even more likely, not only in the U.S., but also
around the world.
September 2002 Update
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