Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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Contents of this page:



Alternative Names    Return to top

Toxemia with seizures

Definition    Return to top

Eclampsia is seizures (convulsions) in a pregnant woman that are not related to brain conditions.

See also: Preeclampsia

Causes    Return to top

The cause of eclampsia is not well understood. Researchers believe the following may play a role:

However, no theories have yet been proven.

Eclampsia follows preeclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy that includes high blood pressure and excess and rapid weight gain.

It is difficult to predict which women with preeclampsia will go on to have seizures. Women at high risk for seizures have severe preeclampsia and:

Eclampsia occurs in about 1 out of every 2,000 to 3,000 pregnancies. The following increase a woman's chance for getting preeclampsia:

Symptoms    Return to top

Symtoms of preeclampsia include:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

The health care provider will do a physical exam and rule out other possible causes of seizures. Blood pressure and breathing rate will be checked and monitored.

Blood tests may be done to check:

Treatment    Return to top

If you have eclampsia your health care provider should carefully monitor you. Delivery is the treatment of choice for severe eclampsia. Delivering the baby relieves the condition. Prolonging the pregnancy can be dangerous to both you and your infant.

With careful monitoring, the goal is to manage severe cases until 32-34 weeks into the pregnancy, and mild cases until 36-37 weeks have passed. This helps reduce complications from premature delivery.

You may be given medicine to prevent seizures (anticonvulsant). Magnesium sulfate is a safe drug for both you and your baby. Your doctor may prescribe medication to lower high blood pressure, but you may have to deliver if your blood pressure stays high, even with medication.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Women in the United States rarely die from eclampsia. 

Possible Complications    Return to top

There is a higher risk for separation of the placenta (placenta abruptio) with preeclampsia or eclampsia. There may be complications for the baby due to premature delivery.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

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 consciousness.

Prevention    Return to top

There is no known way to prevent eclampsia. However, it is important for all pregnant women to get early and ongoing medical care. This allows for the early diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as preeclampsia. Treating preeclampsia may prevent eclampsia.

References    Return to top

ACOG Practice Bulletin Committee. Diagnosis and management of preeclampsia and eclampsia. Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Jan;99(1):159-67.

Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL. Obstetrics - Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 4th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2002:974-983.

Update Date: 2/5/2008

Updated by: Peter Chen, M.D., Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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