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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2002 May;186(5):1017-21.

Pharmacokinetics of ionized versus total magnesium in subjects with preterm labor and preeclampsia.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, Torrance, USA.



Intravenous magnesium sulfate is widely used in obstetrics for the treatment of both preterm labor and preeclampsia. Although therapeutic levels of total magnesium have been proposed, the levels remain controversial. Because the active form of magnesium is the free or ionized form, it is essential to determine whether ionized magnesium and total magnesium levels are highly correlated in vivo. We sought to examine the correlation between ionized magnesium and total magnesium under basal and therapeutic conditions and to define the initiation and elimination pharmacokinetics of both forms during intravenous magnesium sulfate infusion.


Twenty-four singleton pregnant patients who were candidates for magnesium sulfate were studied (preterm labor, 15; preeclampsia, 9). Serial blood samples were taken before the magnesium sulfate infusion, during the first 4 hours after the initiation of magnesium sulfate infusion and for 4 hours after the discontinuation of the infusion.


Baseline levels of total magnesium and ionized magnesium were not different between patients with preterm labor and with preeclampsia. Among patients with preeclampsia, although not patients with preterm labor, the initial apparent volume of distribution was significantly smaller for total magnesium than for ionized magnesium (16,397 +/- 1441 vs 23,856 +/- 2745 mL, respectively; P =.03), and the elimination half-life was greater for total magnesium as compared to ionized magnesium (707 +/- 160 vs 313 +/- 29 minutes;P <.05). Linear regression analysis demonstrated a lack of correlation between ionized magnesium and total magnesium during the pretreatment period and during the steady state infusion for both preterm labor and preeclampsia.


The measurement of total magnesium may not be adequate for the titration of therapeutic magnesium infusions in patients with preeclampsia or preterm labor because of the lack of correlation between total magnesium and the physiologically active ionized magnesium. Further studies may determine whether the measurement of ionized magnesium is a superior method for following the adequacy and safety of the treatment of preeclampsia and preterm labor.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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