Conference Coverage

Remember that preeclampsia has a ‘fourth trimester’



A large portion of maternal pregnancy-related deaths happen in the days or weeks after the baby is delivered, and they’re often related to hypertension, according to Natalie Bello, MD, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York.

Dr. Natalie Bello

In medical school, “they told me that you deliver the placenta, and the preeclampsia goes away. Not the case. Postpartum preeclampsia is a real thing. We are seeing a lot of it at our sites, which have a lot of underserved women who hadn’t had great prenatal care” elsewhere, she said.

Headache and visual changes in association with hypertension during what’s been dubbed “the fourth trimester” raise suspicions. Women can progress rapidly to eclampsia and HELLP syndrome (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count), but sometimes providers don’t recognize what’s going on because they don’t know women have recently given birth. “We can do better; we should be doing better. Please always ask women if they’ve delivered recently,” Dr. Bello said at the joint scientific sessions of the American Heart Association Council on Hypertension, AHA Council on Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease, and American Society of Hypertension.

Hypertension should resolve within 6 weeks of delivery, and blood pressure should be back to baseline by 3 months. To make sure that happens, BP should be checked within a few days of birth and regularly thereafter. It can be tough to get busy and tired new moms back into the office, but “they’ll do whatever it takes” to get their baby to a pediatric appointment, so maybe having pediatricians involved in checking blood pressure would help, she said.

The cutoff point for hypertension in pregnancy is 140/90 mm Hg, and it’s considered severe when values hit 160/110 mm Hg or higher. Evidence is strong for treating severe hypertension to reduce strokes, placental abruptions, and other problems, but the data for treating nonsevere hypertension are less clear, Dr. Bello explained.

The Chronic Hypertension and Pregnancy (CHAP) trial is expected to fill the evidence gap in a few years; women are being randomized to start treatment at either 140/90 mm Hg or 160/105 mm Hg. Meanwhile, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently suggested that treatment of nonsevere hypertension might be appropriate in the setting of comorbidities and renal dysfunction (Obstet Gynecol. 2019 Jan;133[1]:e26-e50).

Dr. Bello prefers treating with extended-release calcium channel blocker nifedipine over the beta-blocker labetalol. “We think it is a little more effective,” and the once daily dosing, instead of two or three times a day, helps with compliance. Thiazide diuretics and hydralazine are also in her arsenal, but hydralazine shouldn’t be used in isolation because of its reflex tachycardia risk. The old standby, the antiadrenergic methyldopa, has fallen out of favor because of depression and other concerns. Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, renin inhibitors, and mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists shouldn’t be used in pregnancy, she said.

Intravenous labetalol and short-acting oral nifedipine are the mainstays for urgent, severe hypertension, along with high-dose intravenous magnesium, especially for seizure control. IV hydralazine or nitroglycerin are other options, the latter particularly for pulmonary edema. “Be careful of synergistic hypotension with magnesium and nifedipine,” Dr. Bello said.

Dr. Bello didn’t have any industry disclosures.

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