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Management of systemic lupus erythematosus during pregnancy: challenges and solutions

Caroline L Knight, Catherine Nelson-Piercy
Open Access Rheumatology: Research and Reviews 2017, 9: 37-53
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, multisystem autoimmune disease predominantly affecting women, particularly those of childbearing age. SLE provides challenges in the prepregnancy, antenatal, intrapartum, and postpartum periods for these women, and for the medical, obstetric, and midwifery teams who provide their care. As with many medical conditions in pregnancy, the best maternal and fetal-neonatal outcomes are obtained with a planned pregnancy and a cohesive multidisciplinary approach. Effective prepregnancy risk assessment and counseling includes exploration of factors for poor pregnancy outcome, discussion of risks, and appropriate planning for pregnancy, with consideration of discussion of relative contraindications to pregnancy. In pregnancy, early referral for hospital-coordinated care, involvement of obstetricians and rheumatologists (and other specialists as required), an individual management plan, regular reviews, and early recognition of flares and complications are all important. Women are at risk of lupus flares, worsening renal impairment, onset of or worsening hypertension, preeclampsia, and/or venous thromboembolism, and miscarriage, intrauterine growth restriction, preterm delivery, and/or neonatal lupus syndrome (congenital heart block or neonatal lupus erythematosus). A cesarean section may be required in certain obstetric contexts (such as urgent preterm delivery for maternal and/or fetal well-being), but vaginal birth should be the aim for the majority of women. Postnatally, an ongoing individual management plan remains important, with neonatal management where necessary and rheumatology followup. This article explores the challenges at each stage of pregnancy, discusses the effect of SLE on pregnancy and vice versa, and reviews antirheumatic medications with the latest guidance about their use and safety in pregnancy. Such information is required to effectively and safely manage each stage of pregnancy in women with SLE.


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