Objective To raise awareness of the potentially adverse consequences of postpartum cerebral vasoconstriction, which is typically considered benign and self-limiting, by describing 4 fulminantly fatal cases.
Design Retrospective case series.
Setting Tertiary referral center.
Patients Four postpartum women aged 15 to 33 years developed acute neurologic deficits 1 to 8 days after uncomplicated deliveries. One had a history of migraine headaches and 2 had histories of spontaneous abortion. Two of the patients had uneventful pregnancies and 2 had preeclampsia, 1 of whom had acute hepatic failure. Presenting symptoms included severe headache (n = 3), focal deficit (n = 1), seizure (n = 1), and encephalopathy (n = 1). Initial brain imaging results demonstrated cortical ischemia and global edema in 2 patients, lobar hemorrhage in 1, and normal findings in 1. All had rapid clinical deterioration from hours to days with multiterritorial infarctions and global brain edema on imaging. All had angiographic findings of diffuse, severe, segmental multifocal arterial narrowings.
Interventions Aggressive treatment was attempted with most patients including intravenous magnesium sulfate, corticosteroids, calcium channel blockers, balloon angioplasty, vasopressors, and osmotic agents. Two patients underwent serial angiography, with results showing severe, recurrent proximal vasoconstriction involving all major intracranial vessels.
Results All patients had fulminant, accelerating courses leading to their deaths within 8 to 24 days after delivery.
Conclusions Postpartum vasoconstriction can be fatal, with rapid progression of vasoconstriction, ischemia, and brain edema. Clinicians need to be aware of the potential consequences of this condition. Postpartum women with acute neurologic symptoms require prompt investigation with noninvasive cerebrovascular imaging and close monitoring for possible secondary deterioration.