What is eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a serious complication of preeclampsia. It is a rare but serious condition in which high blood pressure results in seizures during pregnancy.

Seizures are periods of disturbing brain activity that can cause initial episodes, decreased alertness, and convulsions (violent shaking). Eclampsia occurs in 1 out of every 200 women with preeclampsia. Eclampsia can develop even if there is no history of seizures.

What are the symptoms of eclampsia?

Because preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, both conditions can have symptoms. 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 can rule out other possible causes.

The following are common symptoms of preeclampsia:

  • hypertension
  • swelling in the face or hands
  • headache
  • excessive weight gain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • vision problems, including episodes with vision loss or blurred vision
  • difficulty urinating
  • abdominal pain, especially in the upper right abdomen

Patients with eclampsia may have the same symptoms as those noted above or may have no symptoms prior to the onset of eclampsia. The following are common symptoms of eclampsia:

  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness
  • agitation

What causes eclampsia?

Eclampsia often follows preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy and rarely after delivery. Other findings, such as protein in the urine, may also be present. If your preeclampsia worsens and affects your brain, causing seizures, you have developed eclampsia.

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes preeclampsia, but it’s thought to be due to abnormal formation and function of the placenta. They may explain that the symptoms of preeclampsia can cause eclampsia.


Preeclampsia is the condition in which your blood pressure, or the force of blood against the walls of your arteries, becomes high enough to damage your arteries and other blood vessels. Damage to your arteries can restrict blood flow. It can cause swelling in the blood vessels in your brain and your growing baby. If this abnormal blood flow through the veins interferes with your brain’s ability to function, seizures can occur.


Preeclampsia often affects kidney function. Proteinuria in your urine, also known as proteinuria, is a common sign of the condition. Your urine can be tested for protein each time you have a doctor’s appointment.

Usually, your kidneys filter waste from your blood and produce urine from these wastes. However, the kidneys work to retain nutrients in the blood, such as protein, to be redistributed throughout your body. If kidney filters, called glomeruli, are damaged, protein can leak through them and seep into your urine.

Who is at risk for eclampsia?

If you have or have had preeclampsia, you may be at risk for eclampsia.

Other risk factors for developing eclampsia during pregnancy include:

  • pregnancy or chronic hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • be older than 35 or younger than 20
  • twin or triplet pregnancy
  • first time pregnancy
  • diabetes or another condition that affects your blood vessels
  • kidney disease

Eclampsia and your baby

Preeclampsia and eclampsia affect the placenta, the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus from the mother’s blood. When high blood pressure reduces blood flow through the vessels, the placenta may not be able to function properly. This may cause your baby to be born with a low birth weight or other health problems.

Problems with the placenta often require premature delivery for the baby’s health and safety. In rare cases, these conditions cause stillbirths.

How is eclampsia diagnosed?

If you’ve been diagnosed with or have a history of preeclampsia, your doctor will order tests to determine if your preeclampsia is coming back or getting worse. If you don’t have preeclampsia, your doctor will test for preeclampsia and others to determine why you’re having seizures. These tests may include:

blood tests

Your doctor may order several types of blood tests to evaluate your condition. These tests include a complete blood count, which measures how many red blood cells are in your blood, and a platelet count to see how well your blood is clotting. Blood tests will also help you examine your kidney and liver function.

creatinine test

Creatinine is a waste product created by muscles. Your kidneys must filter most of the creatinine from your blood, but if the glomeruli are damaged, excess creatinine will remain in the blood. Having too much creatinine in your blood can indicate preeclampsia, but it isn’t always.

urine tests

Your doctor may order urine tests to check for the presence of protein and the rate of excretion.

What are eclampsia treatments?

Delivery of your baby and placenta is the recommended treatment for preeclampsia and eclampsia. Your doctor will consider how mature your baby is when recommending the severity of the disease and the time of delivery.

If your doctor diagnoses you with mild preeclampsia, they may monitor your condition and prescribe medication to prevent it from developing into eclampsia. Medications and monitoring will help keep your blood pressure in a safer range until you’re mature enough to have a baby.

If you develop severe preeclampsia or eclampsia, your doctor may deliver your baby early. Your care plan will depend on how much time you have during your pregnancy and the severity of your illness. You will need to be admitted to the hospital for monitoring until you deliver your baby.


Medications to prevent seizures, called anticonvulsant drugs, may be necessary. If you have high blood pressure, you may need medicine to lower blood pressure. You can also take steroids that help your baby’s lungs mature before birth.

What is the long-term outlook?

Your symptoms should resolve within a few weeks after your baby is born. However, in your next pregnancy and possibly in later life That being said, you’ll still be at a greater risk of high blood pressure. It is important to follow the postnatal blood pressure checks and examinations of the baby after birth to ensure the recovery of the disease.

If complications occur during pregnancy, it could be a medical emergency, such as placental abruption. Placental abruption is a condition that causes the placenta to separate from the uterus. This requires immediate emergency cesarean delivery to save the baby.

The baby may become very sick or even die. Complications to the mother, stroke or cardiac arrest risk of death due to It can be quite severe, including

However, getting proper medical care for preeclampsia can prevent the disease from progressing to a more serious form such as eclampsia. Go to prenatal visits recommended by your doctor to monitor your blood pressure, blood, and urine. Be sure to also talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing.


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Okanloma KA et al. (2000). Neurological complications associated with preeclampsia/eclampsia syndrome.

Overview: Preeclampsia. (2018).

Preeclampsia and hypertension in pregnancy: Resource overview. (Nd).

Theilen LH, et al. (2018). Long-term risk of death and life expectancy following recurrent hypertensive disease of pregnancy. DOI:

WHO recommendations for the prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. (2011).

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