Topic Overview

Eclampsia is pregnancy-related seizure activity that is
caused by severe
preeclampsia. Less than 1% of women who have
preeclampsia experience seizures.footnote 1 Eclampsia is
life-threatening for both a mother and her fetus. During a seizure, the oxygen
supply to the fetus is drastically reduced.

Sudden seizures can
occur before, during, or (rarely) up to 6 weeks after delivery (postpartum).
Postpartum seizures are most common during the first 48 hours after

If you have eclampsia, your doctor will give you medicine (such as magnesium sulfate) to prevent a seizure from happening again and to control your blood pressure. The doctor will wait until your health is stable before delivering your baby.

What happens during a seizure

A woman with eclampsia
has a type of seizure called a grand mal seizure, which begins with a sudden
loss of consciousness.

  • During the first 15 to 30 seconds of a seizure,
    the entire body stiffens as the muscles contract. The back and neck arch. The
    woman may cry out as the vocal cords contract or may turn blue if she is having
    difficulty breathing.
  • During the next 30 to 45 seconds, the muscles
    jerk, or convulse, in a rhythmic pattern. While the muscles are jerking, the
    woman may bite her tongue or lose bladder or bowel control.
  • An
    entire seizure lasts 1 to 2 minutes or longer. After the seizure, the woman
    will be unresponsive at first but will gradually wake up within 10 to 15
    minutes. She may be sleepy, confused, or dazed. She may also feel tired, weak,
    or moody and may have a headache and muscle aches for the next 24 hours.

Related Information



  1. Habli M, Sibai BM (2008). Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 257-275. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD – Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer William Gilbert, MD – Maternal and Fetal Medicine

Current as ofMarch 16, 2017