Table of Contents
Definition of Eclampsia of Pregnancy
Eclampsia – a potentially life-threatening complication of pregnancy in which the woman experiences tonic–clonic seizures, extreme hypertension (high blood pressure), and periods of unconsciousness or coma.
Eclampsia threatens the wellbeing of the fetus because it so dramatically affects the mother’s health that prompt delivery is usually necessary, risking preterm birth when eclampsia occurs before 37 weeks gestation.
Routine prenatal care, which allows early detection of problems such as hypertension in the pregnancy, and aggressive treatment for preeclampsia, which is often though not always the precipitating condition, make eclampsia relatively uncommon in the United States.
When it does occur, eclampsia usually develops between the 20th week of pregnancy and the first week after childbirth (though sometimes occurs up to several weeks later).
Doctors do not know what causes eclampsia or what causes some women who have preeclampsia (sometimes called toxemia of pregnancy or gestational hypertension) to progress to eclampsia and others not. The treatment of choice for eclampsia is intravenous magnesium sulfate to stop the seizures with delivery of the baby as rapidly as possible.
When eclampsia occurs before fetal viability (generally 24 weeks), doctors may attempt to control the hypertension and seizures in the mother to allow the fetus to further mature. However, the best outcomes for mother and baby occur with the earliest intervention possible. There are no known measures to prevent eclampsia.
See also GESTATIONAL DIABETES; SEIZURE DISORDERS.
Page last reviewed: