Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy-specific multi-organ disorder, which is characterised by hypertension and multisystem organ involvement and which has significant maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. Failure of the placental vascular remodelling and reduced uteroplacental flow form the etiopathological basis of pre-eclampsia. There are several established therapies for pre-eclampsia including antihypertensives and anticonvulsants. Most of these therapies aim at controlling the blood pressure or preventing complications of elevated blood pressure, or both. Epidural therapy aims at blocking the vasomotor tone of the arteries, thereby increasing uteroplacental blood flow. This review was aimed at evaluating the available evidence about the possible benefits and risks of epidural therapy in the management of severe pre-eclampsia, to define the current evidence level of this therapy, and to determine what (if any) further evidence is required.
To assess the effectiveness, safety and cost of the extended use of epidural therapy for treating severe pre-eclampsia in non-labouring women. This review aims to compare the use of extended epidural therapy with other methods, which include intravenous magnesium sulphate, anticonvulsants other than magnesium sulphate, with or without use of the antihypertensive drugs and adjuncts in the treatment of severe pre-eclampsia.This review only considered the use of epidural anaesthesia in the management of severe pre-eclampsia in the antepartum period and not as pain relief in labour.
We searched Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register, ClinicalTrials.gov and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) (13 July 2017) and reference lists of retrieved studies.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs comparing epidural therapy versus traditional therapy for pre-eclampsia in the form of antihypertensives, anticonvulsants, magnesium sulphate, low-dose dopamine, corticosteroids or a combination of these, were eligible for inclusion. Trials using a cluster design, and studies published in abstract form only are also eligible for inclusion in this review. Cross-over trials were not eligible for inclusion in this review.
The two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and trial quality. There were no relevant data available for extraction.
We included one small study (involving 24 women). The study was a single-centre randomised trial conducted in Mexico. This study compared a control group who received antihypertensive therapy, anticonvulsant therapy, plasma expanders, corticosteroids and dypyridamole with an intervention group that received epidural block instead of the antihypertensives, as well as all the other four drugs. Lumbar epidural block was given using 0.25% bupivacaine, 10 mg bolus and 5 mg each hour on continuous epidural infusion for six hours. This study was at low risk of bias in three domains but was assessed to be high risk of bias in two domains due to lack of allocation concealment and blinding of women and staff, and unclear for random sequence generation and outcome assessor blinding.The included study did not report on any of this review's important outcomes. Meta-analysis was not possible.For the mother, these were: maternal death (death during pregnancy or up to 42 days after the end of the pregnancy, or death more than 42 days after the end of the pregnancy); development of eclampsia or recurrence of seizures; stroke; any serious morbidity: defined as at least one of stroke, kidney failure, liver failure, HELLP syndrome (haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets), disseminated intravascular coagulation, pulmonary oedema.For the baby, these were: death: stillbirths (death in utero at or after 20 weeks' gestation), perinatal deaths (stillbirths plus deaths in the first week of life), death before discharge from the hospital, neonatal deaths (death within the first 28 days after birth), deaths after the first 28 days; preterm birth (defined as the birth before 37 completed weeks' gestation); and side effects of the intervention. Reported outcomesThe included study only reported on a single secondary outcome of interest to this review: the Apgar score of the baby at birth and after five minutes and there was no clear difference between the intervention and control groups.The included study also reported a reduction in maternal diastolic arterial pressure. However, the change in maternal mean arterial pressure and systolic arterial pressure, which were the other reported outcomes of this trial, were not significantly different between the two groups.
Currently, there is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness, safety or cost of using epidural therapy for treating severe pre-eclampsia in non-labouring women.High-quality randomised controlled trials are needed to evaluate the use of epidural agents as therapy for treatment of severe pre-eclampsia. The rationale for the use of epidural is well-founded. However there is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials to show that the effect of epidural translates into improved maternal and fetal outcomes. Thus, there is a need for larger, well-designed studies to come to an evidence-based conclusion as to whether the lowering of vasomotor tone by epidural therapy results in better maternal and fetal outcomes and for how long that could be maintained. Another important question that needs to be answered is how long should extended epidural be used to ensure any potential clinical benefits and what could be the associated side effects and costs. Interactions with other modalities of treatment and women's satisfaction could represent other avenues of research.