Hypertensive crisis during pregnancy and postpartum period

Semin Perinatol. 2013 Aug;37(4):280-7. doi: 10.1053/j.semperi.2013.04.007.


Hypertension affects 10% of pregnancies, many with underlying chronic hypertension, and approximately 1-2% will undergo a hypertensive crisis at some point during their lives. Hypertensive crisis includes hypertensive urgency and emergency; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists describes a hypertensive emergency in pregnancy as persistent (lasting 15 min or more), acute-onset, severe hypertension, defined as systolic BP greater than 160 mmHg or diastolic BP >110 mmHg in the setting of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia. Pregnancy may be complicated by hypertensive crisis, with lower blood pressure threshold for end-organ damage than non-pregnant patients. Maternal assessment should include a thorough history. Fetal assessment should include heart rate tracing, ultrasound for growth and amniotic assessment, and Doppler evaluation if growth restriction is suspected. Initial management of hypertensive emergency (systolic BP >160 mmHg or diastolic BP >110 mmHg in the setting of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia) generally includes the rapid reduction of blood pressure through the use of intravenous antihypertensive medications, with goal systolic blood pressure between 140 mmHg and 150 mmHg and diastolic pressure between 90 mmHg and 100 mmHg. First-line intravenous drugs include labetalol and hydralazine, but other agents may be used, including esmolol, nicardipine, nifedipine, and, as a last resort, sodium nitroprusside. Among patients with hypertensive urgency, slower blood pressure reduction can be provided with oral agents. The objective of this article is to review the current understanding, diagnosis, and management of hypertensive crisis during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Keywords: Antihypertensive medication; Hypertensive crisis; Postpartum; Postpartum pre-eclampsia; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antihypertensive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood Pressure
  • Eclampsia
  • Emergencies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced* / diagnosis
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced* / drug therapy
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced* / epidemiology
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pre-Eclampsia
  • Pregnancy
  • Puerperal Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Puerperal Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Antihypertensive Agents