What are the Symptoms Eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a dangerous and life-threatening complication of pregnancy that occurs when women are not adequately treated for the condition pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia refers to the onset of high blood pressure and proteinuria that occurs around 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Eclampsia is essentially pre-eclampsia accompanied by a form of generalized seizure called tonic–clonic seizure.

Doctor measuring the blood pressure of a pregnant woman. Image Credit: adriaticfoto / Shutterstock
Doctor measuring the blood pressure of a pregnant woman. Image Credit: adriaticfoto / Shutterstock

In the UK, pre-eclampsia progresses to eclampsia in around one in 4,000 pregnancies. If eclampsia goes untreated, it is usually fatal to both the mother and the baby. If a mother develops pre-eclampsia, the only way to manage the condition is to deliver the baby. However, if the pre-eclampsia is diagnosed at a stage too early to deliver the baby, the mother and baby require careful monitoring while the baby develops and matures to a stage where delivery is safe.

Pre-eclampsia can develop in the absence of any symptoms. It is therefore essential to monitor the maternal blood pressure as a routine part of prenatal care. The blood pressure is considered abnormal if two readings of 140/90 mmHg or higher are obtained when the mother is tested at least four hours apart.

Some of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:

  • Excess protein in the urine, referred to as proteinuria
  • Visual disturbances such as blurred vision, loss of vision or sensitivity to light
  • Severe headache
  • Abdominal pain, usually in the upper right portion of the abdomen
  • Decreased urine output
  • Impaired liver function
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased blood platelet number (thrombocytopenia)
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Sudden weight gain and accumulation of fluid (edema), especially in the hands and face.
Preeclampsia Video - Brigham and Women's Hospital

Risk factors for pre-eclampsia

The factors listed below are associated with an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia:

  • First pregnancy
  • Age older than 40 years
  • Pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • Underlying vascular disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease
  • Twin or multiple pregnancy
  • A family history of pre-eclampsia

If the signs of pre-eclampsia are ignored, a mother is at risk of going on to develop eclampsia. Eclampsia is diagnosed based on the development of tonic-clonic seizures or coma in a pregnant woman who has no pre-existing brain disorders. If this condition develops, delivery of the baby will be arranged regardless of how developed the pregnancy is.

A convulsion is usually preceded by a loss of vision, headaches, nausea and vomiting. The seizures generally last for less than a minute, during which jerky, repetitive movements of the arms, neck, jaw and legs are seen. Although women generally recover fully from a fit, there is a small risk that permanent brain damage or disability will occur if a fit is severe. Occasionally, the mother does not experience any convulsions but instead falls straight into a coma. On awakening from the coma, some women experience a temporary loss of vision.

Around one in fifty women who develop eclampsia die from the condition and around 1 in 14 babies die during a convulsion, due to suffocation.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 19, 2019

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Robertson, Sally. (2019, June 19). What are the Symptoms Eclampsia?. News-Medical. Retrieved on May 06, 2021 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-the-Symptoms-Eclampsia.aspx.

  • MLA

    Robertson, Sally. "What are the Symptoms Eclampsia?". News-Medical. 06 May 2021. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-the-Symptoms-Eclampsia.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Robertson, Sally. "What are the Symptoms Eclampsia?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-the-Symptoms-Eclampsia.aspx. (accessed May 06, 2021).

  • Harvard

    Robertson, Sally. 2019. What are the Symptoms Eclampsia?. News-Medical, viewed 06 May 2021, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-the-Symptoms-Eclampsia.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
You might also like... ×
Elevated ACE2 and inflammation levels increase risk for pregnant women infected with SARS-CoV-2