Definitions of hypotension after spinal anaesthesia for caesarean section: literature search and application to parturients


Michael Heesen
Klinik für Anästhesie
Operative Intensivmedizin und Schmerztherapie
Klinikum Bamberg
Buger Str. 80
96049 Bamberg


Background: Spinal anaesthesia for caesarean section may cause hypotension, jeopardizing the foetus and its mother. We aimed to identify the spectrum of definitions of hypotension used in the scientific literature. In a second part, we applied these definitions to a prospective cohort in order to evaluate the effect of different definitions on the incidence of hypotension.

Methods: A systematic literature search in PubMed was performed from 1999 to 2009 with the search terms ‘hypotension’ and ‘caesarean section’. Consecutive parturients undergoing caesarean section under spinal anaesthesia were included in a prospective study.

Results: Sixty-three eligible publications (7120 patients) were retrieved, revealing 15 different definitions of hypotension. A decrease below 80% baseline and the combined definition of a blood pressure below 100 mmHg or a decrease below 80% baseline were the two most frequent definitions, found in 25.4% and 20.6% of the papers, respectively. When applying the spectrum of definitions to a prospective cohort, the incidences of hypotension varied between 7.4% and 74.1%. The incidence increased from 26.7% to 38.5% when using a value below 75% of baseline instead of below 70% of baseline.

Conclusion: There is not one accepted definition of hypotension in the scientific literature. The incidence of hypotension varies depending on the chosen definition. Even minor changes of the definition cause major differences in the frequency of hypotension. This makes it difficult to compare studies on interventions to treat/prevent hypotension and probably hampers progress in this area of research.