Eclampsia: A Pregnancy Nightmare

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Eclampsia is a serious, albeit rare, condition that causes seizures (convulsions) or coma in pregnant women. These seizures are of no relation to the existing brain condition, thus pregnant women who may not even have a history of seizures may develop this condition. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity characterized by staring, lack of alertness and convulsions (violent shaking). Eclampsia develops from a condition called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition present exclusively in pregnant. In this condition, pregnant women develop high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy, usually late in the second trimester or during the third trimester. Eclampsia occurs in one out of every 2,000 to 3,000 pregnancies. Some complications that may occur from eclampsia include separation of placenta (placenta abruption), premature delivery, and blood clotting problem.

Causes of Eclampsia

Eclampsia frequently follows preeclampsia, although the exact cause of preeclampsia is still not yet determined. Possible causes may include the following:

  • Problems or damage to the blood vessels
  • Insufficient flow of blood to the uterus
  • Diet
  • Genes
  • Autoimmune disorders

Risk Factors of Eclampsia

                It is not easy to tell which pregnant women with preeclampsia will progress to eclampsia, however, it was determined that the following risk factors increases a pregnant women’s chances of developing severe preeclampsia and seizures include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Having headaches
  • Age – being under age 20 but over age 35
  • Race – African Americans are at greater risk
  • First pregnancy
  • Multiple pregnancy (twins or more)
  • History of malnutrition or poor diet
  • Diabetes
  • Having conditions that affect the blood vessels

Signs and Symptoms for Eclampsia

Signs and symptoms for eclampsia are the following:

  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Convulsions
  • Extreme agitation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Emergency symptoms: seizures and/ or decreased alertness
When an individual is having a seizure, such as in eclampsia, the head must be supported with the hands

When an individual is having a seizure, such as in eclampsia, the head must be supported with the hands

One must also be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia to avoid the development of eclampsia. The following are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia:

  • Unexplained weight gain (more than two pounds a week)
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Edema (swelling) of face and hands
  • Vision changes

Treatment for Eclampsia

The main treatment for preeclampsia to prevent eclampsia from developing is to deliver the baby. Continuing the pregnancy despite signs and symptoms of preeclampsia is dangerous for both the mother and the baby. Treatment for eclampsia may include:

  • Medications, called anticonvulsants, to prevent seizures from occurring
  • Medications to lower high blood pressure

Eclampsia is a serious but rare condition that causes seizures in pregnant women, even with no history of brain condition. To learn how to recognize signs and symptoms of eclampsia and seizures, enroll in First Aid Courses.  

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