Early standardized treatment of critical blood pressure elevations is associated with a reduction in eclampsia and severe maternal morbidity

Published:January 30, 2017DOI:


      Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy result in significant maternal morbidity and mortality. State and national guidelines have been proposed to increase treatment of patients with hypertensive emergencies or critically elevated blood pressures. There are limited data available to assess the impact of these recommendations on maternal morbidity.


      The purpose of this prospective quality improvement project was to determine if maternal morbidity would be improved using a standardized approach for treatment of critically elevated blood pressures.

      Study Design

      In all, 23 hospitals participated in this project. Treatment recommendations included the use of an intravenous blood pressure medication and magnesium sulfate when there was a sustained blood pressure of ≥160 mm Hg systolic and/or ≥110 mm Hg diastolic. Compliance with the metric recommendations was monitored based on the number of patients treated with an intravenous blood pressure medication, use of magnesium sulfate, and if they received a timely postpartum follow-up appointment. The metric was scored as all or none; missing any of the 3 metric components was considered noncompliant. From January through June 2015 baseline data were collected and hospitals were made aware that ongoing monitoring of compliance would begin in July 2015 through June 2016. The primary outcomes were composite metric compliance, the incidence of eclampsia per 1000 births, and severe maternal morbidity.


      During the 18 months of this study there were 69,449 births. Within this population, 2034 met criteria for a critically elevated blood pressure, preeclampsia, or superimposed preeclampsia with severe features. Of this group, 1520 had a sustained critical blood elevation. Initial compliance with treatment recommendations was low (50.5%) and increased to >90% after April 2016 (P < .001). Compliance with utilization of intravenous blood pressure medication increased by 33.2%, from a baseline of 57.1-90.3% (P < .01) during the last 6 months of monitoring. Compliance with utilization of magnesium sulfate increased by 10.8%, from a baseline of 85.4-96.2% (P < .01). The incidence of eclampsia declined by 42.6% (1.15 ± 0.15/1000 to 0.62 ± 0.09/1000 births). Severe maternal morbidity decreased by 16.7% from 2.4 ± 0.10% to 2.0 ± 0.15% (P < .01).


      We noted 3 important findings: (1) compliance with state and national treatment guidelines is low without monitoring; (2) high levels of compliance can be achieved in a relatively short period of time; and (3) early intervention with intravenous blood pressure medication and magnesium sulfate for verified sustained critical maternal blood pressures resulted in a significant reduction in the rate of eclampsia and severe maternal morbidity. The reduction in the rate of eclampsia could only partially be attributed to the increase in the use of magnesium sulfate, suggesting an additive or synergistic effect of the combined treatment of an antihypertensive medication and magnesium sulfate on the rate of eclampsia and severe maternal morbidity.

      Key words

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