Perimortem Caesarean Delivery: Late is Better than Not

“To date, approximately one-third of the women who die during pregnancy remain undelivered at the time of death”

Guidelines recommend cardiac arrest in pregnant women beyond 20 weeks gestation should be treated with perimortem caesarean delivery (PMCD) commenced within 4 minutes of arrest and completed within 5. These time intervals come from two papers, neither of which is current or used robust review methodology.

To address this, an up-to-date fairly comprehensive review was undertaken of published cases of maternal cardiac arrests occurring prior to delivery. The primary outcome measures were maternal and neonatal survival to hospital discharge and the relationship between PMCD and this outcome.

The Arrests

94 cases were included in the final analysis.Most pregnancies were singleton (90.4%, n = 85) with an average gestational age at the time of the arrest of 33 ± 7 weeks (median 35, range 10–42).

The most common causes of arrest were trauma, maternal cardiac problems, severe pre-eclampsia and amniotic fluid embolism, together comprising about 70% of arrests; two thirds occurred in hospital.

The Outcomes

Overall, return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) was achieved more often than not (60.6%) and overall survival to hospital discharge was 54.3%

Only 57 cases (75%) reported the time from arrest to delivery; the average time was 16.6 ± 12.5 min (median 10, range 1–60), with only 4 cases making it under the advocated 4-min time limit.

Timing of PMCD and Maternal Survival

In cases undergoing PMCD the average time elapsing from arrest to PMCD was significantly different between surviving (27/57) and non-surviving (30/57) mothers [10.0 ± 7.2 min (median 9, range 1–37) and 22.6 ± 13.3 min (median 20, range 4–60) respectively (p < 0.001, 95%CI 6.9–18.2)].

Timing of PMCD and Neonatal Survival

Mean times to PMCD were 14±11min (median=10, range=1–47) and 22 ± 13 min (median = 20, range = 4–60) in neonatal survivors and non-survivors respectively (p=0.016)

In cases with PMCD which reported outcome, the overall neonatal survival rate was 63.6% (42/66).

“The 4-min time frame advocated for PMCD usually remains unmet yet neonatal survival is still likely if delivery occurs within 10 or even 15 min of arrest”

Both maternal & neonatal mortality were higher with prehospital arrest location.


The study may be limited by recall bias, under-reporting and publication bias, but provides a more comprehensive evidence base on which to base resuscitation recommendations. The authors provide a useful warning against becoming fixated with the recommended four minute window, which may lead teams to fail to attempt a potentially life-saving intervention:

“Fixation on specific time frames for PMCD may not be ideal. It may be more important to focus on event recognition and good overall performance…. It may be wise to advocate a short time frame for performance of PMCD in order to achieve better outcomes; however, blanket endorsement of an unrealistic time frame may well create a defeatist attitude when that time frame cannot be met.”

Maternal cardiac arrest and perimortem caesarean delivery: Evidence or expert-based?
Resuscitation. 2012 Oct;83(10):1191-200

AIM: To examine the outcomes of maternal cardiac arrest and the evidence for the 4-min time frame from arrest to perimortem caesarean delivery (PMCD) recommended in current resuscitation and obstetric guidelines.

DATA SOURCES AND METHODS: Review and data extraction from all reported maternal cardiac arrests occurring prior to delivery (1980-2010). Cases were included if they provided details regarding both the event and outcomes. Outcomes of arrest were assessed using survival, Cerebral Performance Category (CPC) and maternal/neonatal harm/benefit from PMCD. Outcome measures were maternal and neonatal survival.

RESULTS: Of 1594 manuscripts screened, 156 underwent full review. Data extracted from 80 relevant papers yielded 94 included cases. Maternal outcome: 54.3% (51/94) of mothers survived to hospital discharge, 78.4% (40/51) with a CPC of 1/2. PMCD was determined to have been beneficial to the mother in 31.7% of cases and was not harmful in any case. In-hospital arrest and PMCD within 10 min of arrest were associated with better maternal outcomes (ORs 5.17 and 7.42 respectively, p<0.05 both). Neonatal outcome: mean times from arrest to delivery were 14±11 min and 22±13 min in survivors and non-survivors respectively (receiver operating area under the curve 0.729). Neonatal survival was only associated with in-hospital maternal arrest (OR 13.0, p<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Treatment recommendations should include a low admission threshold to a highly monitored area for pregnant women with cardiorespiratory decompensation, good overall performance of resuscitation and delivery within 10 min of arrest. Cognitive dissonance may delay both situation recognition and the response to maternal collapse.

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