What is Severe Preeclampsia?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2018
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The occurrence of convulsions in a pregnant woman who possesses no neurological disorder is considered an advanced presentation of preeclampsia known as severe preeclampsia. Commonly referred to as eclampsia, in the absence of a single known trigger, there are a variety of factors that may contribute to the development of this condition. When delivery is not an immediate option, treatment for severe preeclampsia generally involves the administration of anticonvulsants and medications to stabilize the mother's blood pressure. Delivery is the only cure to alleviate symptoms associated with preeclampsia and eclampsia and reduce the risk posed to both mother and child.

Eclampsia manifests as a complication of existing preeclampsia. Considered a form of hypertension, preeclampsia induces excessive swelling and fluid retention that may jeopardize a woman’s pregnancy and compromise the well-being of her fetus. Signs of this serious condition include elevated blood pressure and proteinuria, or elevated protein levels in one’s urine. If left untreated, preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia and place the mother at risk for stroke, placental abruption, and death.

Women who develop eclampsia may experience signs leading up to the initial onset of convulsions. It is not uncommon for women with severe preeclampsia to experience widespread achiness and discomfort, as well as personality changes and pronounced moodiness. A loss of consciousness is not unheard of in the wake of episodic seizures as often occur with eclampsia. Additional signs and symptoms of severe preeclampsia may include impaired vision and abdominal discomfort.


Considered rare in presentation, severe preeclampsia generally affects only a select portion of pregnant women. Certain factors are thought to increase one’s chance for the development of eclampsia and include advanced age and a history of multiple births, such as delivering twins or triplets. Additionally, women with a history of hypertension or diabetes are considered to possess an increased risk for developing severe preeclampsia.

A diagnosis of eclampsia is generally made following a presentation of convulsions or a worsening of preeclampsia symptoms. A battery of blood tests are usually administered to evaluate one’s creatinine level and blood platelet count to rule out the presence of other conditions that may be causing the convulsions. Though tests may exclude the presence of other conditions, additional circumstances may be revealed that originate with the effects of advanced preeclampsia.

High creatinine levels may be indicative if there is impaired kidney function, which can occur due to excessively high protein levels as associated with advanced preeclampsia and eclampsia onset. Low blood platelets can be indicative of the presence of infection or organ failure that may further compromise a woman's pregnancy in the presence of eclampsia. If a woman's pregnancy is complicated by the effects of advanced preeclampsia, such as organ failure, an immediate delivery is necessary.

Delivery is the ultimate goal to alleviate one’s symptoms and prevent further complications. If an immediate delivery is not possible, severe preeclampsia may be managed and monitored until a safe delivery may be performed. Magnesium may be given to prevent convulsions in women with severe preeclampsia who have not yet presented with seizures. If convulsions present before a woman is at least 32 weeks along, she may be given anticonvulsants to reduce the frequency of her seizures and medication to stabilize her blood pressure.



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