Imaging of Pregnancy-related Vascular Complications

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This article describes physiologic vascular-related changes of pregnancy, radiation risks during gestation, and pregnancy-related vascular complications to help radiologists improve imaging examination selection, diagnosis, and clinical management.

Pregnancy results in substantial hemodynamic and prothrombotic changes that form the foundation for downstream vascular complications, both during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. In addition, several important risk factors, including older patient age, diabetes, and smoking, can increase the risk for vascular-related pregnancy complications. Because radiologists often play an important role in evaluation of the pregnant patient, understanding the pathophysiology of vascular-related complications in pregnancy and their imaging appearances is essential for diagnostic accuracy. The authors review relevant normal physiologic changes of pregnancy, pathophysiologic changes, and imaging features of vascular conditions that can manifest in conjunction with pregnancy. Particular attention is given to pertinent imaging information that radiologists should provide to referring clinicians to optimally affect the management of pregnant patients as well as women in the peripartum and postpartum stages. Among the complications discussed are preeclampsia; hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count (HELLP) syndrome; spontaneous coronary artery dissection; placental abruption; amniotic fluid embolism and acute pulmonary embolism; dural venous sinus thrombosis; ovarian vein thrombophlebitis; vasa previa; uterine arteriovenous malformations; heritable aortopathies; and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. To help radiologists avoid the use of unnecessary ionizing radiation in pregnancy, imaging examination selection and optimization are also reviewed. Radiologists should be familiar with the physiologic changes of pregnancy, radiation risks during gestation, and pregnancy-related vascular complications to improve imaging examination selection, diagnosis, and clinical management.

©RSNA, 2017


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Article History

Received: May 04 2016
Revision requested: Sept 06 2016
Revision received: Oct 4 2016
Accepted: Oct 24 2016
Published online: July 11 2017
Published in print: July 2017