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How accurate are maternal symptoms in predicting impending complications in women with preeclampsia? A systematic review and meta-analysis


  • Conflict of interest
    The authors have stated explicitly that there are no conflicts of interest in connection with this article.

Shakila Thangaratinam PhD, MRCOG, Centre for Health Sciences, Institute of Health Sciences Education, Queen Mary University of London, Whitechapel, London, UK. E-mail:


Background. Maternal symptoms such as severe headache, nausea and vomiting, visual disturbances and epigastric pain have been associated with complications in women with preeclampsia. Objective. To determine the accuracy of maternal symptoms in predicting complications in women with preeclampsia by systematic review. Data Sources. We searched MEDLINE (1951–2010), EMBASE (1980–2010), the Cochrane Library (2009) and the MEDION database. Methods of Study Selection. Studies which evaluated the accuracy of symptoms in women with preeclampsia for predicting complications were selected in a two-stage process. Information was extracted by two independent reviewers. We summarized accuracy with a bivariate model estimating sensitivity, specificity and area under the curve. Results. Six primary articles with 2573 women were included. The area under the curve for predicting complications for headache, epigastric pain and visual disturbances was 0.58 (95%CI 0.24–0.86), 0.70 (95%CI 0.30–0.93) and 0.74 (95%CI 0.33–0.94). The sensitivity and specificity of the symptoms in predicting adverse maternal outcomes were respectively as follows: headache 0.54 (95%CI 0.27–0.79) and 0.59 (95%CI 0.38–0.76); epigastric pain 0.34 (95%CI 0.22–0.5) and 0.83 (95%CI 0.76–0.89); visual disturbances 0.27 (95%CI 0.07–0.65) and 0.81 (95%CI 0.71, 0.88); nausea and vomiting 0.24 (95%CI 0.21, 0.27) and 0.87 (95%CI 0.85, 0.89). Conclusion. The presence of symptoms is more useful in predicting complications in preeclampsia compared to their absence in excluding adverse events.