Master Class

Management of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy


In the last installment of the Master Class, I addressed the importance of clarity in the classification of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, and proposed several key diagnostic definitions. Here, I address the management of “mild” gestational hypertension (GHTN) and preeclampsia without severe features, which I believe should be managed similarly. I also address the management of preeclampsia with severe features, and I share an algorithm that I have developed and fine-tuned over the years to control acute severe hypertension with the use of intravenous labetalol, intravenous hydralazine, or oral nifedipine.

Dr. Baha Sibai, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School, Houston

Dr. Baha Sibai

Management of “mild” gestational hypertension/Preeclampsia without severe features

Mild gestational hypertension in and of itself has little effect on maternal or perinatal morbidity and mortality when it develops at or beyond 37 weeks’ gestation. However, approximately 40% of patients diagnosed with preterm GHTN will subsequently develop preeclampsia or progress to severe GHTN. In addition, these pregnancies may result in fetal growth restriction and placental abruption.

Antihypertensive drugs should not be used during ambulatory management of women with GHTN. Patients who receive antihypertensive therapy, including those diagnosed with severe GHTN, should be hospitalized and initially treated as having preeclampsia with or without severe features. Subsequent management will depend on initial response to therapy, blood pressure values after treatment, gestational age, and laboratory findings.

Preeclampsia without severe features is usually managed as in those with GHTN. (See related figure.)

management of getstational hypertension/preeclampsia without severe features

Close surveillance is warranted, as either type may progress to fulminant disease. Maternal surveillance should include blood pressure measurements twice per week, and CBC, liver enzymes, and serum creatinine measurements once every week. Patients also should be instructed to immediately report any of these symptoms: Persistent severe headaches; right upper quadrant or epigastric pain, nausea, and vomiting; scotomata, blurred vision, photophobia, or double vision; shortness of breath or orthopnea; altered mental changes; decreased fetal movement; rupture of membranes; vaginal bleeding; or regular uterine contractions.

Fetal evaluation for patients with GHTN/preeclampsia includes ultrasound at the time of diagnosis for evaluation of fetal growth and amniotic fluid value (deepest vertical pocket, or DVP) as well as fetal movement count and non-stress testing (NST). Subsequently, NST and DVP need to be checked twice per week. A decision for delivery will depend on gestational age, fetal status, and development of severe disease.

Management of preeclampsia with severe features

Any patient who has preeclampsia with severe features should be admitted and initially observed in a labor and delivery unit. (See related figure.)

Management of preeclampsia with severe features

Initial workup should include assessment for fetal well-being, monitoring of maternal blood pressure and symptomatology, and laboratory evaluation. Laboratory assessment should include hematocrit, platelet count, serum creatinine, and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). An ultrasound for fetal growth and amniotic fluid index/DVP also should be obtained. Candidates for expectant management should be carefully selected, counseled regarding its risks and benefits, and managed only at tertiary care hospitals.


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