Plasma volume and blood pressure regulation in hypertensive pregnancy

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Pre-eclampsia is a multisystem disorder, peculiar to and frequent in human pregnancy. It remains a leading cause of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. Hemodynamic disturbances are the most prominent features of the syndrome.


To provide an overview of plasma volume regulation and blood pressure control mechanisms outside pregnancy, and of the changes in normal pregnancies and in pregnancies complicated by hypertensive disorders. Furthermore, to discuss the rationale of several hemodynamic interventions.


In normal pregnancy, large cardiovascular changes take place. A generalized fall in vascular tone by systemic vasorelaxation causes increased blood volume, heart rate and cardiac output. In the preclinical phase, differences have been observed between normal and hypertensive pregnancies in the function of the autonomic nervous system, cardiac output and plasma volume, the volume remaining at the non-pregnant level. In the clinical phase of pre-eclampsia the typical case picture is one of a vasoconstrictive state with low plasma volume and cardiac output, high blood pressure and systemic vascular resistance in combination with signs of organ damage [proteinuria, hemolysis elevated liver enzymes low platelets (HELLP) syndrome].Hemodynamic management is necessary in severe disease to prevent maternal complications. Management primarily focuses on pharmacological treatment of blood pressure. Clinicians make educated choices from a limited array of available drugs: β-receptor antagonists, nifedipine, dihydralazine, methyldopa or ketanserine. Other drugs have restricted use in pregnancy. Management of low circulating volume with plasma expanders remains a subject of controversy.

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