[Hypertension and pregnancy. Diagnosis, physiopathology and treatment]

A Fournier, P Fievet, I el Esper, N el Esper, P Vaillant, J Gondry
Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift 1995 November 25, 125 (47): 2273-98
This review on hypertension in pregnancy focuses mainly on the pathophysiology and prevention of pregnancy induced hypertension which, when associated with proteinuria, is usually called preeclampsia. Rather than a genuine hypertensive disease, preeclampsia is mainly a systemic endothelial disease causing activation of platelets and diffuse ischemic disorders whose most obvious clinical manifestations involve the kidney (hence the proteinuria, edema and hyperuricemia), the liver (hence the hemolytic elevated liver enzymes and low platelets, or HELLP syndrome), and the brain (hence eclamptic convulsions). Hypertension is explained by increased vascular reactivity rather than by an imbalance between vasoconstrictive and vasodilating circulating hormones. This increased reactivity is due to endothelial dysfunction with imbalance between prostacyclin and thromboxane A2 and possibly dysfunction of NO and endothelin synthesis. The aggressive substances for endothelium are thought to be of placentar origin and the cause of their release is explained by placentar ischemia related to a defect of trophoblastic invasion of the spiral arteries. The etiology of this latter defect is unknown but involves immunologic mechanisms with genetic predisposition. The only effective treatment for PIH is extraction of the baby with the whole placenta. The decision for extraction is often a very delicate obstetric problem. Antihypertensive drugs are mainly indicated in severe hypertension (> 160-100 mm Hg), with the aim of preventing cerebral hemorrhage in the mother, but have not been shown to improve fetal morbidity or mortality. Eclamptic seizures can be prevented and treated more effectively with magnesium sulfate than with diazepam or phenytoin. Prevention of preeclampsia remains the main challenge. Whereas antihypertensive drugs are ineffective, calcium supplementation and low dose aspirin have proven effective but mainly in selected populations with a relatively high incidence of preeclampsia (> 8-10%). In multiparas the selection of such a high risk population is relatively easy when at least 2 (or 1?) previous pregnancies were complicated with early preeclampsia and/or intrauterine growth retardation. In nulliparas the selection of the high-risk population is still a subject of research. The 2 most promising criteria are abnormal Doppler velocimetry of the uterine arteries at around 20 weeks of amenorrhea, and abnormally high plasma levels of beta HCG at 17 weeks of amenorrhea.

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