General Anesthesia for Cesarean Delivery for Thrombocytopenia in Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy: Findings From the Obstetric Airway Management Registry

Anesth Analg. 2022 Oct 13. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000006217. Online ahead of print.


Background: In resource-limited environments, spinal anesthesia (SA) is preferred for cesarean delivery. In women at risk of spinal epidural hematoma, particularly those with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, thrombocytopenia should be excluded before neuraxial blockade. In the context of emergency surgery for fetal distress, this investigation may be hampered by laboratory services being unavailable or off-site.

Methods: The Obstetric Airway Management Registry (ObAMR) is currently active across all anesthesia training institutions affiliated with the University of Cape Town. This multicenter observational study aimed to estimate the proportion of patients receiving general anesthesia (GA) for either confirmed or suspected thrombocytopenia, which was not excluded due to unavailability of laboratory results. To establish the number of GA uses that may have been avoided if platelet counts were available, we retrospectively searched for subsequent platelet counts in patients for whom thrombocytopenia was suspected. An algorithm was proposed, including a simple decision aid for estimating risk versus benefit of SA versus GA, to be followed in the setting of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and thrombocytopenia.

Results: Thrombocytopenia was the indication for GA in 100 of 591 patients (16.9%) captured in the registry. In total, 48 of 591 (8.1%) had confirmed thrombocytopenia, and 52 of 591 (8.8%) had suspected thrombocytopenia. Of these patients, 91 of 100 had a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. In the confirmed thrombocytopenia group, the indication for GA was a platelet count <75 × 109/L. In the suspected thrombocytopenia group, 46 of 52 (88.5%) platelet counts could be retrospectively traced. The median (interquartile range) platelet count was 178 × 109/L (93 - 233 × 109/L), and platelets exceeded 75 × 109/L in 41 of 46 patients (89.1%). In the 5 of 46 patients with retrospectively confirmed thrombocytopenia, 2 had hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets (HELLP) syndrome, 2 had antepartum hemorrhage with preeclampsia, and 1 had isolated thrombocytopenia with preeclampsia.

Conclusions: In 17% of patients, the indication for GA was thrombocytopenia. Of these, 52 of 100, or nearly 9% of the total of 591, received GA because a platelet count was unavailable at the time of surgery. The importance of early laboratory assessment, when available, should be emphasized. Overall, 41 of 591 (6.9%) had a platelet count >75 × 109/L and would not have needed GA if their platelet count had been known. After following the constructed algorithm and applying the decision aid to assess risk and benefit, there may be circumstances in which the clinician justifiably opts for SA when a platelet count is indicated but unavailable.