General Care of the Pregnant Patient in the Intensive Care Unit: Pulmonary Complications of Pregnancy

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Abstract

Pregnant women represent a small subset of all intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and may require intensive care for “obstetric” or “nonobstetric” reasons. Women may be admitted to the ICU at any stage of pregnancy or in the postpartum period. Pregnancy may be discovered at the time of admission to the ICU. Pregnancy impacts on ICU care in a variety of ways and requires a multidisciplinary approach to management. Pregnancy is associated with considerable physiological changes that affect most organ systems, including an expansion in blood volume, an increase in minute ventilation, and an increased risk of thrombosis. The enlarging uterus may be associated with mechanical complications due to compression and displacement of other structures. The growing fetus places considerable demands upon the mother, being reliant on maternal systems for oxygenation, nutrition and disposal of carbon dioxide, and other waste products. This “second patient” must be considered when managing the pregnant woman. Optimal management of the mother usually constitutes best treatment for the fetus. Maternal shock and physiological disturbance, medications, and ionizing radiation from diagnostic imaging may have harmful effects on the unborn child. Delivery of the fetus for either maternal or fetal indications may be necessary and should be planned for, even if considered unlikely to be required. Care of the postpartum woman has its own challenges, including managing lactation and facilitating mother/infant contact. In this article, the general care aspects of ICU treatment of the pregnant woman will be discussed, including monitoring, physiological target setting, and general supportive care.

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