Postpartum preeclampsia: emergency department presentation and management

J Emerg Med. 2011 Apr;40(4):380-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.02.056. Epub 2008 Sep 23.


Study objective: Postpartum preeclampsia/eclampsia is the presence of hypertension and proteinuria, with or without seizures, occurring up to 4 weeks after delivery. We describe the Emergency Department (ED) presentation, signs and symptoms, results of diagnostic studies, management, and outcome in a cohort of patients diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia/eclampsia at our institutions, and use this to review the diagnosis and management of postpartum preeclampsia/eclampsia.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was conducted at two urban teaching hospitals. Twenty-two cases were identified via ICD-9 (International Classification of Diseases, 9(th) revision) codes of discharge diagnoses over an 8-year period. Only those patients who initially presented to an ED in the postpartum period after hospital discharge were included. A standardized data tool was used to extract demographic data, signs and symptoms of preeclampsia/eclampsia, ancillary studies previously associated with eclamptic pathology, and outcome during admission.

Results: Of the 22 women, over half (55%) had not been diagnosed with preeclampsia in the ante- or peripartum period. Common prodromal symptoms and signs in the postpartum presentation included headache, visual changes, hypertension, edema, proteinuria, elevated uric acid, and elevated liver function tests. All 4 patients who seized had prodromal symptoms. Women presented from 3 to 10 days postpartum (median: 5 days). Only 10 women were primiparas. Nineteen women presented with diastolic blood pressures > 90 mm, and only 3 of these had diastolic blood pressures of 110 mm Hg or greater.

Conclusions: Postpartum preeclampsia/eclampsia often presents to the ED without a history of preeclampsia during the pregnancy. Further, not all women with this diagnosis who present to the ED in the postpartum period will have each of the "classic" features of this disease, including elevated blood pressure, edema, proteinuria, and hyperreflexia. This report is intended to inform emergency physicians of the presentation of preeclampsia/eclampsia in the postpartum period, including symptoms of headache, vision changes, elevated blood pressure, or seizure up to 4 weeks after delivery.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Eclampsia / diagnosis*
  • Eclampsia / drug therapy
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Female
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hydralazine / therapeutic use
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Labetalol / therapeutic use
  • Magnesium Sulfate / therapeutic use
  • Postpartum Period*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / diagnosis*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Vision Disorders / etiology
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Hydralazine
  • Magnesium Sulfate
  • Labetalol