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Long-term Consequences of the Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome in Eclampsia and Preeclampsia: A Review of the Obstetric and Nonobstetric Literature

Postma, Ineke R. BSc*; Slager, Sjoerdtje BSc; Kremer, Hubertus P.H. MD, PhD; de Groot, Jan Cees MD, PhD§; Zeeman, Gerda G. MD, PhD

Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey: May 2014 - Volume 69 - Issue 5 - p 287–300
doi: 10.1097/OGX.0000000000000069

This review summarizes the long-term consequences of the posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) that have been described in the obstetric literature (eclampsia and preeclampsia) and compares these with data from the nonobstetric literature. Preeclampsia is characterized by new-onset hypertension and proteinuria after the 20th week of pregnancy. Neurological symptoms include headache; visual deficits; confusion; seizures; and, in the most severe cases, intracranial hemorrhage. Eclampsia is an acute cerebral complication of preeclampsia, defined as the occurrence of tonic-clonic seizures in pregnant or recently postpartum women. With severe preeclampsia, in conjunction with neurological symptoms, or eclampsia, neuroimaging changes consistent with PRES can be seen. Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome is a specific clinicoradiological syndrome presenting with headaches, visual impairment, seizures, and altered mental status. Characteristic neuroimaging features are consistent with cerebral edema predominantly in the parietal and occipital lobes. In addition to preeclampsia/eclampsia, PRES has been associated with various conditions in the nonobstetric population, that is, severe hypertension, transplantation, or autoimmune disease, in combination with immunosuppressive therapy or high-dose chemotherapy for various malignant conditions. Long-term sequelae of both preeclampsia/eclampsia and other PRES-related conditions are poorly described. After eclampsia or preeclampsia, nonspecific white matter lesions may be found on magnetic resonance imaging, which may or may not be related to the PRES episode. Previously (pre)eclamptic women report cognitive failures; however, no neurocognitive impairment has been shown so far. Various nonobstetric PRES-related conditions have been described with long-term neuroimaging abnormalities as well as cognitive problems, epilepsy, or visual impairment. Although no firm conclusions can be drawn because of the heterogeneity of reported cases, some general comments can be made. Because most persistent long-term problems are present in the nonobstetric population, the main determinant for these long-term problems may be the underlying condition that gave rise to the PRES episode. In addition, most reports suggest that late diagnosis or inadequate therapy may contribute, emphasizing the need for early recognition, adequate treatment, follow-up, and support.

Target Audience Obstetricians and gynecologists, neurologists, radiologists, ophthalmologists, psychologists

Learning Objectives After completing this CME activity, the reader should be able to identify the clinicoradiological syndrome and pathophysiology of PRES in preeclampsia/eclampsia, evaluate long-term consequences and complaints in formerly preeclamptic and eclamptic women, and determine the need for early magnetic resonance imaging diagnosis of PRES.

*Medical/PhD Student, and †Medical Student, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, ‡Neurologist, Department of Neurology, §Radiologist, Department of Radiology, and ∥Obstetrician, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

All authors and staff in a position to control the content of this CME activity and their spouses/life partners (if any) have disclosed that they have no financial relationships with, or financial interests in, any commercial organizations pertaining to this educational activity.

Correspondence requests to: Ineke R. Postma, BSc, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University Medical Center Groningen, Hanzeplein 1, CMC IV, CB21, 9700 RB Groningen, The Netherlands. E-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.