The exact cause of eclampsia is not known. 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 complication of pregnancy in which a woman has high blood pressure and other findings.
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 often have severe preeclampsia with findings such as:
- Abnormal blood tests
- Very high blood pressure
- Vision changes
- Abdominal pain
Your chances of getting preeclampsia increase when:
- You are 35 or older.
- You are African American.
- This is your first pregnancy.
- You have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.
- You are having more than 1 baby (such as twins or triplets).
- You are a teen.
Eclampsia is the new onset of seizures or coma in a pregnant woman with preeclampsia. These seizures are not related to an existing brain condition.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do a physical exam to look for causes of seizures. Your blood pressure and breathing rate will be checked regularly.
Blood and urine tests may be done to check:
Women with eclampsia or preeclampsia have a higher risk for:
- Separation of the placenta (placenta abruptio)
- Premature delivery that leads to complications in the baby
- Blood clotting problems
Getting medical care during your entire 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.
Symptoms of eclampsia include:
- Severe agitation
Most women will have these symptoms of preeclampsia before the seizure:
- 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
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 provider may give 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.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider or go to the emergency room 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
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Hypertension in pregnancy. Report of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(5):1122-1131. PMID: 24150027
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Salhi BA, Nagrani S. Acute complications of pregnancy. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 178.
Sibai BM. Preeclampsia and hypertensive disorders. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 31.