Eclampsia is a rare but serious condition that causes seizures
during pregnancy. Eclampsia is a severe complication of preeclampsia. Seizures
are periods of disturbed brain activity that can cause episodes of staring,
decreased alertness, and violent shaking (convulsions). Eclampsia affects
about 1 in every 200 women with preeclampsia. You can develop eclampsia even if
you don’t have a history of seizures.
Eclampsia often follows preeclampsia, which is characterized by
high blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy. If your preeclampsia
worsens and affects your brain, causing seizures or a coma, you have developed
Doctors don’t know what causes preeclampsia. The following
explains how the symptoms of preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia.
High Blood Pressure
Preeclampsia can cause your blood pressure (the force of blood
against the walls of your arteries) to become high enough to damage your
arteries and other blood vessels. Damage to your arteries may restrict blood
flow and produce swelling in the blood vessels of your brain. If this swelling
interferes with your brain’s ability to function, seizures may occur.
Preeclampsia commonly affects kidney function. Protein in your
urine, also known as proteinuria, is a key sign of the condition. Your kidneys
filter waste from your blood but retain beneficial nutrients, such as protein, in
the blood for redistribution to your body. If the kidneys’ filters (glomeruli) sustain
damage, protein can leak through these filters and excrete into your urine.
Is at Risk for Eclampsia?
If you have or have had severe preeclampsia, you may be at risk
Other risk factors for seizures during pregnancy include:
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- over age 35
- under age 20
- pregnant with twins
- pregnant for the first time
- history of poor diet or malnutrition
- diabetes or another condition that affects your
Are the Symptoms of Eclampsia?
Because preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, you may have the
symptoms of both conditions. However, some of your symptoms may be due to other
conditions, such as kidney disease or diabetes. It’s important to tell your
doctor about any conditions you have so they may rule out other possible
The following are common symptoms of preeclampsia:
- swelling in your face or hands
- excessive weight gain
- nausea and vomiting
- vision problems
- problems urinating
The following are common symptoms of eclampsia:
- loss of consciousness
- headaches or muscle pain
Eclampsia and Your Baby
Preeclampsia and eclampsia affect the placenta, which is the
organ that delivers oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the fetus. When high blood
pressure reduces your blood flow, the placenta may be unable to function
properly. This may result in your baby being born with a low birth weight or
other health problems. Problems with the placenta often require preterm
delivery for the health and safety of the baby. In rare cases, these conditions
Is Eclampsia Diagnosed?
If you already have a preeclampsia diagnosis or have a history of
it, your doctor will order tests to determine if your preeclampsia worsened or
reoccurred. If you don’t have preeclampsia, your doctor will order
preeclampsia-related tests as well as others to determine why you’re
Your doctor may order several types of blood tests to assess your
condition. These tests include a hematocrit, which measures how many red blood
cells you have in your blood, and a platelet count to see how well your blood
Creatinine is a waste product created by the muscles. Your
kidneys should filter most of the creatinine from your blood, but if the
glomeruli don’t work properly, excess creatinine will remain in the blood.
Having too much creatinine in your blood may (but doesn’t always) indicate
Your doctor may order urine tests to check for the presence of
protein and its excretion rate.
Are the Treatments for Eclampsia?
Delivering your baby is the only way to treat preeclampsia and
eclampsia. If your doctor diagnoses you with preeclampsia, they may monitor
your condition and treat you with medication to prevent eclampsia from
developing. If you do develop eclampsia, your doctor may deliver your baby
early, depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy. Early delivery may
occur between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy if life-threatening symptoms arise
or if medication doesn’t work.
Medications to prevent seizures (anticonvulsants) may be necessary.
You may also need medication to lower blood pressure if you have high blood
Taking all prescribed medications, getting rest, and monitoring
any changes in your condition are critical for managing preeclampsia and
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Both preeclampsia and eclampsia symptoms should disappear once
you have your baby. If complications occur, you may experience medical
emergencies such as placental abruption. Placental abruption is a condition
that causes the placenta, the organ that protects and nourishes the baby while
in the womb, to detach from the uterus.
Getting the proper medical care for preeclampsia may prevent
eclampsia. Make sure to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be