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Eclampsia

Eclampsia is seizures (convulsions) in a pregnant woman. These seizures are not related to an existing brain condition.

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Preeclampsia

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Causes

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

Eclampsia follows a condition called preeclampsia. This is a serious complication of pregnancy in which a woman has high blood pressure and very rapid weight gain.

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 have severe preeclampsia with findings such as:

Your chance of getting preeclampsia increases when:

Symptoms

Symptoms of eclampsia include:

Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will do a physical exam to look for causes of seizures. Blood pressure and breathing rate will be checked regularly.

Blood and urine tests may be done to check:

Treatment

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 doctor may prescribe 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.

Possible Complications

Women with eclampsia or preeclampsia have a higher risk of:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care 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:

Prevention

Getting medical care all during 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.

Related Information

Seizures
Preeclampsia
High blood pressure
Diabetes
Renal
Placenta abruption - definition
Premature infant

References

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Hypertension in Pregnancy. Practice Guideline WQ244. 2013.

Houry DE, Salhi BA. Acute complications of pregnancy. In Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:chap 178.

Sibai BM. Hypertension. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al., eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 35.

Stead LG. Seizures in pregnancy/eclampsia. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2011;29:109-116.

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Review Date: 2/24/2014  

Reviewed By: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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