What is eclampsia?
Eclampsia can cause seizures during pregnancy and postpartum postbirth that are due to a condition called "preeclampsia" that is associated with high blood pressure. Preeclampsia is a dangerous complication of pregnancy that typically affects women late into a pregnancy and can progress to seizures. Symptoms of preeclampsia may include elevated blood pressure, edema, protein in urine, and eventually eclampsia which is preeclampsia with seizures. The condition is upgraded from preeclampsia to eclampsia when seizures develop.
Moving from preeclampsia to eclampsia
There is no known definitive cause for eclampsia, but doctors do know the condition follows preeclampsia. Medical professionals monitor pregnant women during prenatal visits in hopes of finding early symptoms of preeclampsia. When detected early, doctors can work with patients, if symptoms are mild, to prolong pregnancy with lifestyle and dietary changes until the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy when the fetus is fully developed. Severe cases of preeclampsia may lead to eclampsia, maternal death or fetal death if left untreated, but early detection provides doctors time to prepare for premature birth. If severe preeclampsia is detected early, doctors will attempt to prolong the pregnancy to the 32nd week of pregnancy or longer, if possible. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery.
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If preeclampsia is left untreated seizures can develop. The seizures are the main symptom of eclampsia, though patients may also experience muscle pain, agitation, and unconsciousness. Symptoms of preeclampsia are monitored during labor, but eclampsia can develop at any time without warning and escalate quickly.
Patients at risk of developing eclampsia may be treated with seizure medication during pregnancy to reduce the risk of seizure. Risk of eclampsia increases in:
- Women over the age of 35
- African-American women
- First pregnancy
- Women with a history of kidney disease or diabetes
- Women pregnant with multiples
If eclampsia develops during labor, there is a good chance the birth will be resolved via emergency C-section. Seizures can cause permanent brain damage or coma. Before delivery, organ function may be assessed to ensure the patient is stable for surgery. Blood pressure and seizure activity must be treated before surgery is possible. If the patient is in the advanced stages of labor, assistance may be used to speed up vaginal delivery.
Seek emergency medical attention
If you experience symptoms of preeclampsia or eclampsia, contact your physician immediately, particularly if you notice swelling/edema or changes in vision. Seizures, extreme agitation or loss of consciousness should be treated by emergency medical personnel immediately as they could be a sign of eclampsia.
High Risk Pregnancy Complications Guide
Preeclampsia During Pregnancy and Postpartum