What is eclampsia, causes, symptoms and onset

What is eclampsia, causes, symptoms and onset?


Eclampsia is the onset of seizures (convulsions) in a woman with pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy in which there is high blood pressure and either large amounts of protein in the urine or other organ dysfunction. Onset may be before, during, or after delivery.
Most often it is during the second half of pregnancy.

The seizures are of the tonic–clonic type and typically last about a minute. Following the seizure there is typically either a period of confusion or coma. Complications include aspiration pneumonia, cerebral hemorrhage, kidney failure, and cardiac arrest. Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are part of a larger group of conditions known as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

what causes eclampsia?

Eclampsia often follows preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood pressure occurring in pregnancy and, rarely, postpartum. Other findings may also be present such as protein in the urine. If your preeclampsia worsens and affects your brain, causing seizures, you have developed eclampsia.

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes preeclampsia, but it’s thought to result from abnormal formation and function of the placenta. They can explain how the symptoms of preeclampsia may lead to eclampsia.


High blood pressure

Preeclampsia is when your blood pressure, or the force of blood against the walls of your arteries, becomes high enough to damage your arteries and other blood vessels. Damage to your arteries may restrict blood flow. It can produce swelling in the blood vessels in your brain and to your growing baby. If this abnormal blood flow through vessels interferes with your brain’s ability to function, seizures may occur.


Preeclampsia commonly affects kidney function. Protein in your urine, also known as proteinuria, is a common sign of the condition. Each time you have a doctor’s appointment, your urine may be tested for protein.

Typically, your kidneys filter waste from your blood and create urine from these wastes. However, the kidneys try to retain nutrients in the blood, such as protein, for redistribution to your body. If the kidneys’ filters, called glomeruli, are damaged, protein can leak through them and excrete into your urine.

What are the symptoms of eclampsia?

Because preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, you may have symptoms of both conditions. However, some of your symptoms may be due to other conditions, such as kidney disease or diabetes. It’s important to tell your doctor about any conditions you have so they may rule out other possible causes.
The following are common symptoms of preeclampsia:

  • elevated blood pressure
  • swelling in your face or hands
  • headaches
  • excessive weight gain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • vision problems, including episodes with loss of vision or blurry vision
  • difficulty urinating
  • abdominal pain, especially in the right upper abdomen

Patients with eclampsia can have the same symptoms as those noted above, or may even present with no symptoms prior to the onset of eclampsia. The following are common symptoms of eclampsia:

Risk factors

Eclampsia, like pre-eclampsia, tends to occur more commonly in first pregnancies. Women who have long term high blood pressure before becoming pregnant have a greater risk of pre-eclampsia. Furthermore, women with other pre-existing vascular diseases (diabetes or nephropathy) or thrombophilic diseases such as the antiphospholipid syndrome are at higher risk to develop pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. Having a large placenta (multiple gestation, hydatidiform mole) also predisposes women to eclampsia. In addition, there is a genetic component: a woman whose mother or sister had the condition is at higher risk than otherwise. Women who have experienced eclampsia are at increased risk for pre-eclampsia/eclampsia in a later pregnancy.


The seizures of eclampsia typically present during pregnancy and prior to delivery (the antepartum period), but may also occur during labor and delivery (the intrapartum period) or after the baby has been delivered (the postpartum period). If postpartum seizures develop, it is most likely to occur within the first 48 hours after delivery. However, late postpartum seizures of eclampsia may occur as late as 4 weeks after delivery.



In the past, women dealing with the complications of preeclampsia have been directed by health experts to take low-dose aspirin daily after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The only way to cure the symptoms of eclampsia is to deliver the baby. Allowing the pregnancy to continue while the mother has eclampsia can result in complications. 

In most cases, the symptoms of eclampsia resolve themselves within 6 weeks after the baby is born. In rare cases, there can be permanent damage to vital organs, which is why it is so important for women to keep their care provider informed of their symptoms.
If anyone experiences any symptoms similar to the ones listed above, it is essential to make an appointment immediately. 

People should know their risk factors and make sure that they mention them to a doctor during their first appointment so that the doctor is prepared for the possibility of the diagnosis.
The overall goal is to have a healthy pregnancy and give birth to a happy, healthy baby. Paying attention to health is the best way to do this.



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