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Eclampsia After Childbirth

Eclampsia is a condition that causes seizures in pregnancy. But it can also cause them during or after childbirth. Eclampsia is a medical emergency. After childbirth, your risk is highest in the week after delivery of your baby. It may occur within 1 to 2 days after delivery. But you are still at risk up to 6 weeks after you give birth.

How to say it

ee-CLAMP-see-uh

Who is at risk for eclampsia after childbirth?

It’s most common in women who are in their teens or 20s, and in women over age 35. It can happen to a woman who had high blood pressure in pregnancy, preeclampsia, or HELLP syndrome. But in some cases, eclampsia can occur without any of these. If you had any of these, your healthcare team will watch your health after delivery very closely. You will be given medicine to lower your blood pressure. You may be given anti-seizure medicine such as magnesium sulfate. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your provider about the safety of any medicines you’re given.

Healthcare provider taking woman's blood pressure.

What causes eclampsia after childbirth?

Healthcare providers aren’t sure what exactly causes it. It may be related to how high blood pressure from pregnancy affects blood vessels in the brain.

Symptoms of eclampsia

In the hours before a seizure, you may have signs and symptoms such as:

  • High blood pressure

  • Headache

  • Blurry vision

  • Double vision

  • Other problems with vision

  • Confusion

  • Pain in the upper right part of the belly

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Rhythmic twitching of your ankle when you flex your foot (ankle clonus)

During a seizure, you may have:

  • Sudden loss of consciousness

  • Stiffening of the body for about 1 minute

  • A blue tint to the skin

  • Jerking of the muscles of your body for 1 to 2 minutes (full-body seizure)

  • Froth and bloody spit coming out of your mouth

  • Biting of your tongue

After the seizure, you will sleep for a few minutes. You will wake up within 10 to 20 minutes. You may have a headache, feel confused, and have vision changes. You may not remember what happened.

Diagnosing eclampsia after childbirth

You may be diagnosed with eclampsia after childbirth if you have a seizure but no history of a seizure disorder or signs of another cause. You may have tests to check for signs of another cause. These can include stroke, a growth (tumor), infection, low electrolytes, or other problem.

Treatment for eclampsia

If someone can help you during a seizure, they should roll you on your left side. This helps prevent breathing problems during the seizure. In the hospital, you will be given anti-seizure medicine to help prevent more seizures. This medicine is sent into a vein in your arm or hand (IV). Or it may be given as shots in your muscles. You may also be given medicine for high blood pressure for 3 weeks or longer.

Possible complications of eclampsia

Eclampsia may cause a blood clot in the brain (stroke). It may cause bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage). You may need to be put on a breathing machine (ventilator) or need a blood transfusion. Eclampsia may lead to heart failure or kidney failure. In some cases, it can lead to death.

You may have high blood pressure ongoing after your pregnancy. You may also have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and problems with blood vessels in the brain in the future.

In a future pregnancy, you are still at risk for eclampsia. Your healthcare team will watch your health closely, especially if you have preeclampsia. You are also at higher risk for:

  • The placenta detaching from the uterus (placental abruption)

  • Preterm birth

  • Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)

  • Stillbirth

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • New symptoms

Online Medical Reviewer: Burd, Irina, MD, PhD
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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