Preeclampsia & Eclampsia: The Warning Signs You Need to Know

Health Check 27

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

3rd trimester, complications, pregnancy health


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nonmember avatar Sdfk

I developed severe preeclampsia at 37 weeks with my son. It was very scary but luckily everything worked out fine. Once it was discovered I had to immediately be induced and be monitored for days afterward.

tanya... tanya_marieh

I just had a good friend from high school die from this.  Her baby made it though and is 4 months old.  She missed her 30th birthday by 4 days and it was one of the most heartbreaking funerals I have ever had to attend.

JessL... JessLogansMommy

I had preeclampsia that my doctor was completely ignoring despite my pleas.  Fortunately for me my water broke prematurely sending me to the hospital where I was treated with Magnesium and delivered immediately.  Even though my son was early we are both OK!  My water broke because of a placental abruption which is a complication of preeclampsia that could have killed us both.  We are both very lucky to be here today. 

justk... justkeeplaughin

I had preeclampsia with my twins. They were delivered 7 and a half weeks early. I was in the hospital days before they were delivered, though, getting shots to strengthen their lungs enough for delivery. I remember going for a check up and being admitted to adjoining hospital within the hour.

DebaLa DebaLa

I was PE and in the hospital for 19 days in my 3rd trimester. Everything was great before that. I walked into the first of my final weekly appts and said "you're going to find protein this time... I felt a change." When the nurse came back bug-eyed with my positive results, she remarked "how did you know?" since I had no obvious symptoms. Well, I feel EVERYthing in my body, and I would have stood on my doctor's neck with my stilettos if he didn't listen to me. Fortunately, we are always on the same page. Very lucky.

Sorry you had to go thru your loss, Tanya_Marieh. Seems so unnecessary and unfair to someone so young, and in this day and age.

nonmember avatar Katherine

I had preeclampsia with my son. He was born 8 weeeks early. I knew something was wrong when there was a drop of blood in my urine. I swelled up hours after arriving at the hospital. We were both fine in the long run. It was scary for my family and friends. God had his hands on me and was at peace.

mommy... mommy2twoboys46

I had severe preeclampsia at 29 weeks with my youngest son. My BP was 220/170. Luckily, me and baby made it through. My son suffered bleeding in his brain though, and now has mild cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus.

widow... widowedmomoftwo

I had it bad with my first daughter at 33ks.  They had to induce me and put me on Mag.  Dr's told my husband and parents that they were worried that they might lose me but would be able to save my daughter.  She was born at 3lbs 14oz and came out lungs developed and home in 17 days.  It was very scary, but not scary enough for me to have a second baby...that pregnancy at 34ks I dropped a trace of protien and my BP started to rise and they delivered her that night. This daughter born at 34wks was 5lbs 11oz, didn't get steroids was intubated and CPAP and came home after 5 days in NICU.  Both delivered C-Section and tubes cut and burned after #2

Mama_... Mama_Dolly

I had hellps syndrome... at 31/32 wks

mikey... mikeyjavimami21

I had pretty severe eclampsia and delivered my youngest son (who's now 1) at 29 weeks 6 days gestation. Magnesium sulfate.... while I know it is the very thing that kept me alive, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy... worst feeling ever! It took a few days to come out of the fog after having the baby. I just thank GOD I trusted my instincts. I had been between docs and checked my BP at Publix, and after my aunt told me it was really high I went to the L&D at my local hospital. I had well over 200 times the normal amount of protien in my urine... they didn't know wtf to do with me so they sent me an hour away to a women & childrens hospital where I delivered my son within a couple days.

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