Eclampsia: A fatal complication during pregnancy

Faryal Panhwar Sep 24 2015

Previously known as toxemia, Eclampsia is a rare but severe and a life-long complication in pregnant females.

It is characterized by seizures or convulsions in women previously diagnosed with preeclampsia – high blood pressure and proteinuria (increase of protein in the urine).


Although the exact cause of eclampsia is yet unknown, several factors are known to be associated with the disease. These include problems with the blood vessels, dietary factors, genetic, hereditary, and neurological factors.

Preeclampsia may also be associated with the improper development of the placenta, due to a problem with the blood vessels.


Although the risk is increased in those diagnosed with preeclampsia, any pregnant female is at risk. For unknown reasons, obese women are also at a higher risk.

Other risk factors include teen pregnancies and low socioeconomic status. Women with a history of headaches and diabetes (which affects blood vessels), and those above 35-years of age are also at risk.


The hallmark of the disease is seizures or convulsions. The most common and pinpoint symptom of preeclampsia is high blood pressure; hence women with high blood pressure are at a greater risk. The degree of increase in blood pressure varies from woman to woman and also depends on the resolution of the disease.

Another important finding may be the presence of protein in the urine. When filtration of the kidneys is impaired, proteinuria follows. This is confirmed with a test carried out on a urine sample. The most urgent symptoms that require immediate medical attention include neurological symptoms such as blurred vision, convulsions, headaches, and seeing spots – and in some cases blindness. In such circumstances, emergency delivery of the baby may be required.

Eclampsia may also cause liver damage. Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen may be confused with diseases associated with the gall bladder (cholecycstitis or cholelithiasis) or indigestion. Since the liver’s normal function is to form and release blood clotting factors, damage to the liver may reduce this ability and any bruising on the body may show as excessive.

The baby is affected when blood flow to the placenta is impaired. With insufficient blood flow, there is a decrease in the nutrients provided to the baby. This causes the baby to become sluggish and decreased movements may be noticed. It is highly advised to check with your doctor if anything of the sort is noticed or experienced.


The following call for medical care:

  • If a pregnant female experiences frequent headaches, blurred vision or occasional blindness
  • If blood pressure during pregnancy is persistently above 160/110 mmHg
  • If unusual and excessive bleeding or bruising is noticed
  • If the female feels like there is a significant decrease in the movements of the baby

How is eclampsia treated?

There is no cure for eclampsia. If it occurs prior to the delivery of the baby, the only treatment is to deliver the baby. Eclampsia can also occur after delivery. Once eclampsia has developed, the treatment of choice is magnesium sulfate. It is administered intravenously and reduces the chances of developing seizures.

While receiving treatment for eclampsia, high blood pressure should also be treated simultaneously. Common medications include Beta Blockers (labitolol) and hydralazine.

Most women, whose pregnancy has been complicated by eclampsia, develop good outcomes. Most babies also do well. However, some women may continue to face complications even after pregnancy and in subsequent pregnancies.

Faryal Panhwar

Faryal Panhwar:

Faryal is currently a second year M.B.B.S student at Ziauddin University. She is an active participate in the Model UN where her passion for debate has received her several delegate awards. Seeking to discover the writer in herself Faryal is now working as a freelance writer for HTV.