Definition

What is eclampsia?

Eclampsia is the new onset of seizures or coma in a pregnant woman. It is a rare but serious condition and is a severe complication of preeclampsia – a complication of pregnancy in which a woman has high blood pressure and other findings. These seizures are not related to an existing brain condition.

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 cause stillbirth.

How common is eclampsia?

Eclampsia affects about 1 in every 200 women with preeclampsia. You can develop eclampsia even if you don’t have a history of seizures. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of eclampsia?

The common symptoms of eclampsia are:

  • Seizures;
  • Severe agitation;
  • Unconsciousness.

Most women, but not all, will have symptoms of preeclampsia before the seizure.

  • Headaches;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Stomach pain;
  • Swelling of the hands and face;
  • Vision problems, such as loss of vision, blurred vision, double vision, or missing areas in the visual field.

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 causes. Do take note of pre-eclampsia symptoms and tell your doctor too.

The following are common symptoms of preeclampsia:

  • Swelling in your face or hands;
  • Headaches;
  • Excessive weight gain;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Vision problems;
  • Problems urinating.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes eclampsia?

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 eclampsia.

Doctors do not know exactly what causes eclampsia. Factors that may play a role include:

  • Blood vessel problems;
  • Brain and nervous system (neurological) factors;
  • Diet;
  • Genes.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for eclampsia?

There are many risk factors for eclampsia, such as:

  • Over 35 years old;
  • Under 20 years old;
  • African American;
  • First pregnancy;
  • Multiple pregnancies (such as twins or triplets);
  • Have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease or any another condition that affects your blood vessels;
  • Have the history of poor diet or malnutrition.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How 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 experiencing seizures. Your doctor will do a physical exam to look for causes of seizures. Blood pressure and breathing rate will be checked regularly.

  • Blood tests: 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 is clotting.
  • Creatinine test: 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 preeclampsia.
  • Urine tests: your doctor may order urine tests to check for the presence of protein and its excretion rate.

How is eclampsia treated?

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: medications to prevent seizures (anticonvulsants) may be necessary. You may also need medication to lower blood pressure if you have high blood pressure.
  • Home care: taking all prescribed medications, getting rest, and monitoring any changes in your condition are critical for managing preeclampsia and eclampsia.

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 experiencing.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage eclampsia?

If you develop signs of preeclampsia early in pregnancy, your doctor or nurse-midwife may prescribe something called expectant management at home, possibly for many weeks. This may mean you are advised to stop working, reduce your activity level, or possibly spend a lot of time resting (partial bed rest). Although partial bed rest is considered reasonable treatment for preeclampsia, experts don’t know how well it works to treat mild preeclampsia or high blood pressure. It is known that strict bed rest may increase your risk of getting a blood clot in the legs or lungs. Whether you are required to reduce your activity or have partial bed rest, expectant management limits your ability to work, remain active, take care of children, and fulfill other responsibilities. It may be helpful to follow some tips for dealing with bed rest.

You may be required to monitor your own condition on a daily basis, including:

  • Your blood pressure;
  • Check your urine for protein;
  • Check your weight;
  • Monitor fetal movements or kick counts.

Keep a written record of your results, including the dates and times you checked. Take this record with you when you visit your doctor or nurse-midwife.

Find a social group to help you. Worry and reduced activity are difficult parts of having preeclampsia. It often helps to talk with women who are or have been in the same situation.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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