Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy

  • New onset hypertension after 20 weeks of gestation (systolic blood pressure > 140 and/or diastolic blood pressure > 90)

And either

  • Proteinuria (urine protein:creatinine ratio ≥30mg/mmol)


  • Other features of pre-eclampsia1:
    • AKI (creatinine ≥ 90)
    • Liver dysfunction (ALT>40)/epigastric/RUQ pain
    • New severe persistent headache without an alternative diagnosis
    • Persistent visual disturbance
    • Haematological complications (platelets <150/DIC/haemolysis)
    • Neurological complications (clonus/stroke/seizures(eclampsia))
    • Pulmonary oedema
    • Uteroplacental dysfunction (fetal growth restriction/placental abruption/intrauterine death)

Onset is usually after 20 weeks of gestation, but it can also occur up to a few weeks postpartum.

Eclampsia- This is pre-eclampsia that has progressed to seizures

Risk Factors:

Clinical features of pre-eclampsia:

  • Asymptomatic hypertension (picked up on screening or incidentally when presenting with another issue)
  • Headache (usually frontal)
  • RUQ or epigastric pain (also a symptom of HELLP syndrome)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Oedema (common but not specific). Especially if rapidly increasing and involving face and hands.
  • Visual disturbance (flashing lights in the visual fields or scotomata)
  • Shortness of breath (uncommon but can occur due to pulmonary oedema)
  • Hyper-reflexia and/or clonus

HELLP syndrome is a variant of severe pre-eclampsia characterised by haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets.4

Symptoms and signs are similar to those of pre-eclampsia but also include jaundice and bleeding.

Management of Pre-eclampsia:


  • Contact obstetrics early
  • Manage the patient in an area with close monitoring if pre-eclampsia with severe features
  • BP management:
    • Labetalol first line unless unsuitable or contraindicated3 (e.g. asthma)
    • Nifedipine MR second line
    • Methyldopa third line (not used postpartum due to risk of depression)
  • Careful fluid balance monitoring
    • Fluid restriction to reduce the risk of pulmonary oedema
    • Monitor urine output if severe
  • Consider IV magnesium sulphate for eclampsia prophylaxis if severe features of pre-eclampsia

Definitive management:

Definitive management of pre-eclampsia is ultimately delivery of the fetus.   Timing of delivery will be decided by senior members of the obstetric team according to the severity of pre-eclampsia, the current gestation and in consultation with the patient. Following diagnosis of pre-eclampsia, the majority of women are managed as inpatients until delivery.


ED Management of Eclampsia:

  • Ask for help early from ITU and obstetric teams
  • ABC approach, manage in left lateral position
  • Airway and breathing assessment with high flow oxygen
  • If inadequate ventilation, consider early intubation (laryngeal oedema in pre-eclampsia and increased risk of aspiration in pregnancy)
  • Magnesium sulphate IV is treatment of choice for seizures – 4g loading dose over 5-10 mins then 1g/hr infusion for 24 hours
  • Further 2g boluses of magnesium sulphate can be given if further seizures occur after initial loading.3
  • Patients will need to be managed in HDU/ITU to stabilise blood pressure prior to delivery

Full NICE guidance is available here

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