Preeclampsia & Eclampsia: The Warning Signs You Need to Know

pregnancyIn last night's episode of Downton Abbey (SPOILER ALERT! Oh what the hell, you've all seen it by now, right?), a certain very pregnant character dies from eclampsia. It was a gruesome, heartbreaking death, too. I'm still not over it. Julian Fellows, you sadist! But anyway, through the whole episode, I kept wondering ... what exactly is eclampsia?

I remember during my pregnancy hearing a lot of talk about watching for the signs of preeclampsia. And then pretty much five seconds after my son was born, I forgot all about what preeclampsia and eclampsia are. So just to refresh my memory, I looked into what exactly these dangerous conditions are, the warning signs, and what doctors can do about them.


Here's what I learned about preeclampsia and eclampsia from WebMD and the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


  • Formerly known as toxemia.
  • Happens in 1 out of 2,000 to 3,000 pregnancies.
  • Occurs in the third trimester, sometimes at the end of the second.
  • The placenta stops working properly.
  • Warning signs for moms: High blood pressure, swollen legs, feet, and hands. Also severe headaches, sudden dramatic weight gain, nausea, blurred vision, decrease in urine.
  • Warning signs for baby: Slowed development and low weight because the placenta isn't sending enough blood.
  • There can be long-term complications following the baby's birth.
  • Tests reveal high levels of protein in urine for moms.
  • Preeclampsia can't be cured, but it can be managed: Doctors can prescribe medications to manage symptoms. Bed rest is also usually recommended to help the placenta remain attached.


  • This is when things get really scary.
  • Symptoms for mom include seizures, stroke, and heart failure.
  • Doctors often have to delivery the baby immediately, by c-section.
  • Untreated, mothers could go into a coma or, worse, die.
  • In Downton Abbey, the doctors could have given Sybil magnesium sulfate when she went into seizures after the delivery. It was inexpensive and readily available then, as it is now.
  • Baby can die as well.
  • Eclampsia can strike after delivery. This is why doctors should keep monitoring you after you deliver.

Are you at risk?

Some doctors say factors like genetics, a history of diabetes, age, and diet and increase your chances. Talk with your doctor to find out if you are at risk.

Eclampsia is one of the reasons your doctor or midwife wants to see you and take your blood pressure all the time. Because THIS could happen, and it's awful. Swollen feet are a pretty common symptom of pregnancy, but combined with other symptoms, they can mean something is seriously the matter. So be sure you make those prenatal appointments.

This is by no means complete information on preeclampsia and eclampsia. To learn more, check out the Preeclampsia Foundation's website. See their full list of symptoms.

Have you ever had preeclampsia? Do you know anyone who has?


Image via tommo4074/Flickr

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