What is Eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a rare but serious complication of pregnancy broadly classified as preeclampsia. It affects approximately 5 out of every 10,000 pregnancies in the United States. Eclampsia usually occurs during the second half of the pregnancy, but can occur anytime after the 20th week of pregnancy up until delivery. It is a condition characterized by seizures which can put the life of both the mother and the baby at risk. The exact cause of eclampsia is unknown, but it is thought to be related to high blood pressure and a deficiency of certain vital minerals.

Signs and Symptoms of Eclampsia

The condition usually develops suddenly and can have life-threatening consequences. A few of the symptoms of eclampsia include:

  • Severe headaches or a headache which does not respond to headache medications.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Visual disturbances such as blurred vision or seeing spots or lines.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Swelling of the face, arms, and legs.
  • Sudden loss of consciousness in rare cases.
Seizures caused by eclampsia can cause the area around the mother’s waist to become rigid and contracted and may last for several minutes.

Risk Factors of Eclampsia

Women who have any of the following conditions are more likely to develop eclampsia:

  • Chronic high blood pressure.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Lower socioeconomic status.
  • Multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, or more).
  • Younger age.
  • Obesity.
  • Preeclampsia.

Treatment for Eclampsia

The primary focus of treatment for eclampsia is to protect the mother and baby from any further damage. In most cases, the algorithm involves delivering the baby prematurely. Anticonvulsant drugs such as magnesium sulfate are used to treat seizures, while other medications can be used to reduce the risk of high blood pressure or to manage any other complications.