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Hematoma after Delivery

Author: Theodore Barrett, MD

Editor: Timothy Klatt, MD

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Puerperal hematomas occur commonly and may pose life-threatening morbidity. Risk factors include lacerations from operative vaginal delivery/episiotomy and injury to pelvic vasculature from a variety of mechanical events, including uterine evacuation or perforation.

Vulvar hematomas are often encountered postnatally. These hematomas result from laceration or rupture of the pudendal artery and/or its tributaries. Vulvar hematomas often occur in the anterior and posterior urogenital triangles in areas bound by strong fascia tissue, which limits their expansion. Deep extension of a vulvar hematoma in the anterior triangle is limited by Colles fascia and the urogenital diaphragm. Similarly, deep extension of a hematoma in the posterior triangle is limited by the presence of perirectal and anal fascia. As a result, expanding hematomas in these areas usually present as a blue-purple mass. These hematomas are generally self-limiting; however, they can cause pressure necrosis of the skin. Surgical intervention and evacuation can prevent spontaneous skin rupture.

Cervical tears, vaginal tears, and large episiotomies can rupture branches of the hypogastric arteries, including the descending branch of the uterine artery, the vaginal artery, and the pudendal artery. Bleeding from these vessels can extend into the paravaginal space, which is bound superiorly by the cardinal ligament, medially by the vagina, laterally by the obturator internus muscle, and inferiorly by the muscles of the levator ani. Hemorrhage in this area can expand medially and occlude the vagina. Expansion can also occur cephalad in a concealed manner past the inguinal ligament into the retroperitoneal space and result in considerable blood loss.   

Retroperitoneal hematomas constitute another category of rare but potentially life-threatening hemorrhage complications. The most common retroperitoneal hematomas associated with childbirth occur as a result of injury to branches of the hypogastric and ovarian vessels. However, lacerations to the posterior vagina, such as a sulcus tear, can rupture vessels, leading to hemorrhage that dissects into the uterosacral area and expands into the retroperitoneal space. Hematomas in the retroperitoneal space can conceal a large volume of blood due to the proximity of well-known and typically avascular areas, namely the perivesical, parametrial (the base of the broad ligament), and perirectal spaces.

Early recognition, evaluation, and expeditious intervention can be lifesaving in a patient with a hematoma. Hemodynamically unstable patients require resuscitation and surgical exploration. Similarly, patients with pressure symptoms resulting in compartment syndrome require surgical intervention. Embolization is another management option for an expanding hematoma in a patient whose condition is otherwise stable.

Further Reading:

Rogers RM, Pasic R. Pelvic Retroperitoneal Dissection: A Hands-on Primer [published correction appears in J Minim Invasive Gynecol. 2017 Jul - Aug;24(5):879]. J Minim Invasive Gynecol. 2017;24(4):546-551. doi:10.1016/j.jmig.2017.01.024

Rafi J, Khalil H. Maternal morbidity and mortality associated with retroperitoneal haematomas in pregnancy. JRSM Open. 2018;9(1):2054270417746059. Published 2018 Jan 8. doi:10.1177/2054270417746059

Zahn CM, Hankins GD, Yeomans ER. Vulvovaginal hematomas complicating delivery. Rationale for drainage of the hematoma cavity. J Reprod Med. 1996;41(8):569-574.

Initial Approval: December 2012; Revised September 2018; Previously titled “Hematoma After Delivery” – renamed to current title September 2018; Revised September 2020


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