Eclampsia is seizures (convulsions) in a pregnant woman. These seizures are not related to an existing brain condition.
Doctors do not know exactly what causes eclampsia. Factors that may play a role include:
- Blood vessel problems
- Brain and nervous system (neurological) factors
Eclampsia follows a condition called preeclampsia. This is a serious complication of pregnancy in which a woman has high blood pressure and very rapid weight gain.
Most women with preeclampsia do not go on to have seizures. It is hard to predict which women will. Women at high risk of seizures have severe preeclampsia with findings such as:
- Abnormal blood tests
- Very high blood pressure
- Vision changes
Your chance of getting preeclampsia increases when:
- You are 35 or older
- This is your first pregnancy
- You have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease
- You are having more than one baby (such as twins or triplets)
- You are a teen
Symptoms of eclampsia include:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Severe agitation
Symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- Gaining more than 2 pounds a week
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Swelling of the hands and face
- Vision problems
Exams and Tests
Doctor will do a physical exam to look for causes of seizures. Blood pressure and breathing rate will be checked regularly.
Blood and urine tests may be done to check:
- Blood clotting factors
- Uric acid
- Liver function
- Platelet count
- Protein in the urine
The main treatment to prevent severe preeclampsia from progressing to eclampsia is giving birth to the baby. Letting the pregnancy go on can be dangerous for you and the baby.
You may be given medicine to prevent seizures. These medicines are called anticonvulsants.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine to lower high blood pressure. If your blood pressure stays high, delivery may be needed, even if it is before the baby is due.
Women with eclampsia or preeclampsia have a higher risk of:
- Separation of the placenta called placenta abruptio
- Premature delivery that leads to complications in the baby
- Blood clotting problems
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call the doctor or go to the emergency department if you have any symptoms of eclampsia or preeclampsia. Emergency symptoms include seizures or decreased alertness.
Seek medical care right away if you have any of the following:
- Bright red vaginal bleeding
- Little or no movement in the baby
- Severe headache
- Severe pain in the upper right abdominal area
- Vision loss
- Nausea or vomiting
Getting medical care all during pregnancy is important in preventing complications. This allows problems such as preeclampsia to be detected and treated early.
Getting treatment for preeclampsia may prevent eclampsia.