Reducing deaths from hypertensive disorders of pregnancy is a global priority. Low dietary calcium might account for the high prevalence of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia in low-income countries. Calcium supplementation in the second half of pregnancy is known to reduce the serious consequences of pre-eclampsia; however, the effect of calcium supplementation during placentation is not known. We aimed to test the hypothesis that calcium supplementation before and in early pregnancy (up to 20 weeks' gestation) prevents the development of pre-eclampsia.
We did a multicountry, parallel arm, double-blind, randomised , placebo-controlled trial in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Argentina. Participants with previous pre-eclampsia and eclampsia received 500 mg calcium or placebo daily from enrolment prepregnancy until 20 weeks' gestation. Participants were parous women whose most recent pregnancy had been complicated by pre-eclampsia or eclampsia and who were intending to become pregnant. All participants received unblinded calcium 1·5 g daily after 20 weeks' gestation.
Between July 12, 2011, and Sept 8, 2016, we randomly allocated 1355 women to receive calcium or placebo; 331 of 678 participants in the calcium group versus 320 of 677 in the placebo group became pregnant, and 298 of 678 versus 283 of 677 had pregnancies beyond 20 weeks' gestation. Pre-eclampsia occurred in 69 (23%) of 296 participants in the calcium group versus 82 (29%) of 283 participants in the placebo group with pregnancies beyond 20 weeks' gestation (risk ratio [RR) 0 ·80, 95% CI 0 ·61-1·06; p=O ·121) . For participants with compliance of more than 80% from the last visit before pregnancy to 20 weeks' gestation, the pre-eclampsia risk was 30 (21%) of 144 versus 47 (32%) of 149 (RR 0·66, CI 0·44-0·98; p=0 ·037). There were no serious adverse effects of calcium reported.
Calcium supplementation that commenced before pregnancy until 20 weeks' gestation, compared with placebo, did not show a significant reduction in recurrent pre-eclampsia. As the trial was powered to detect a large effect size, we cannot rule out a small to moderate effect of this intervention.
Low dose calcium supplementation in pre- and early pregnancy in women from a population with low dietary calcium intake may reduce pre-eclampsia and/or pregnancy loss.