Statins could prevent a deadly complication in pregnancy that affects 50,000 women a year, scientists claim.
They have discovered that the cholesterol-lowering pills substantially reduce the harms caused by pre-eclampsia in a group of women at very high risk.
The results were so impressive the academics believe the pills could also benefit tens of thousands of pregnant women.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition caused by high blood pressure that occurs in about 8 per cent of pregnancies, around 56,000 in the UK a year.
It can lead to serious complications which are fatal for mother and baby including seizures, strokes or premature births.
Women are most at risk if they are over 40, overweight, expecting twins or have a family history of the condition.
Researchers from Kings College London studied the benefits of statins in a small group of women with a rare autoimmune disorder, Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) which affects 500,000 women in the UK.
This causes their bodies to attack their own cells leading to blood clots, which makes them far more susceptible to pre-eclampsia in pregnancy..
Researchers prescribed 11 of the women with statins once a day as soon as they showed symptoms of pre-eclampsia, typically 20 weeks into the pregnancy.
The remainder received the standard treatment, which includes blood thinning drugs and aspirin.
The findings published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation show ten out of the 11 babies born to women taking statins were healthy, although one was premature and has long term complications.
Sadly, just five of the babies born to women not taking statins survived and three have long-term problems affecting their digestion.
Professor Girardi said the results were ‘impressive’ and suggested the pills could also benefit ordinary women without this condition.
‘I would say that seeing the impressive improvement of maternal and fetal health in high risk pregnancies associated with APS antibodies suggest statins might help women with other risk factors for pre-eclampsia.
This treatment might be beneficial in other causes of pre-eclampsia.
‘We found a drug which has been widely used in the general population to prevent cardiovascular disease appears to help prevent pregnancy complications in women with APS.
‘Pravastatin helped to increase blood flow through the placenta, keeping the baby growing and reducing the symptoms of preeclampsia in the mothers.
She added: ‘In the group supplemented by pravastatin, the babies were born alive, healthy, close to full term and showed normal development. In contrast, the group that received only anti-clotting drugs experienced a higher rate of stillbirths and premature births requiring admission to the neonatal intensive care unit.
‘The potential benefits of statin treatment for women who develop preeclampsia without APS are also worth investigating.’
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include swelling of the feet, face and hands, a headache, vision problems and pain below the ribs.
Once diagnosed women are usually treated with blood thinning drugs, aspirin and very closely monitored until the birth.
Often they are induced early or given caesareans as the risk of complications are high.