Eclampsia is defined as the occurrence of seizures in pregnancy or within 10 days of delivery, accompanied by at least two of the following features documented within 24 hours of the seizure: hypertension, proteinuria, thrombocytopenia or raised aspartate amino transferase. Eclampsia complicates approximately one in 2000 pregnancies in the United Kingdom and it remains one of the main causes of maternal death.
Up to 38% of cases of eclampsia can occur without premonitory signs or symptoms of pre-eclampsia—that is, hypertension, proteinuria, and oedema. Only 38% of eclamptic seizures occur antepartum; 18% occur during labour and a further 44% occur postpartum. Rare cases of eclampsia have occurred over a week after delivery.
Outcome is poor for mother and child. Almost one in 50 women suffering eclamptic seizures die, 23% will require ventilation and 35% will have at least one major complication including pulmonary oedema, renal failure, disseminated intravascular coagulation, HELLP syndrome, acute respiratory distress syndrome, stroke, or cardiac arrest. Stillbirth or neonatal death occurs in approximately one in 14 cases of eclampsia.
Up to one third of eclamptic seizures occur out of hospital. For this reason, initial management may involve accident and emergency departments. Early involvement of senior obstetric staff is crucial. Optimal emergency management of seizures, hypertension, fluid balance and subsequent safe transfer is essential to minimise morbidity and mortality.
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