Postpartum eclampsia refers to the sudden onset of grand mal seizures or coma shortly after giving birth. The condition can potentially cause serious damage to the central nervous system (CNS), heart, and other major organs in the mother's body if it is not recognized and treated promptly. Symptoms tend to arise within 48 hours after delivery, but it is possible to experience postpartum eclampsia several days or even weeks later. Advancements in prenatal care and medicine have significantly reduced the frequency of eclampsia episodes and related complications worldwide over the last few decades.
The causes of postpartum eclampsia are unknown, but doctors are aware of several risk factors and warning signs. The vast majority of mothers who experience it have already been diagnosed with a condition called preeclampsia during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention, and protein loss in the urine. Related stress on the heart and CNS make it more likely that seizures will develop. Women over the age of 40, especially those who are having their first pregnancies, are at the highest risk of both preeclampsia and eclampsia.
A mother may experience a single isolated seizure or a series of fits following delivery. In general, a seizure lasts for about one minute and involves facial twitching, pauses in breathing, and foaming from the mouth. Muscles in the face and body begin to contract and relax spontaneously for several seconds at the end of an episode. A temporary coma can set in following a seizure, followed by a period of confusion and extreme fatigue. In most cases, women do not remember seizing or losing consciousness after the event.
During an active seizure, the medical team supplies oxygen, restrains the patient, and gives an intravenous dose of a CNS relaxant. Blood pressure, consciousness, and breathing are carefully monitored after seizures stop. A doctor can then confirm that symptoms were caused by postpartum eclampsia and not another seizure disorder by reviewing lab tests and taking imaging scans. A low blood platelet count and elevated protein in the urine are signs of preeclampsia-induced seizures. Computerized tomography scans rule out brain defects, hemorrhages, and tumors.
A woman who experiences postpartum eclampsia is usually kept in the hospital for several days so doctors can monitor her condition. Seizure medications may be needed to prevent further attacks. In most cases, no permanent damage is done to the patient's body or brain, and her child is usually born free from health problems.