Eclampsia: a neurological perspective

J Neurol Sci. 2008 Aug 15;271(1-2):158-67. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2008.04.010. Epub 2008 May 20.


Eclampsia is a poorly understood disorder characterized by seizures or unexplained coma in setting of gestational hypertension. Its neurological manifestations are varied and are an important cause of the morbidity and mortality associated. We present a comprehensive prospective study of forty women recruited over four years describing neurological symptoms and signs, neuroimaging and laboratory studies as well as prognosis including 3-6 months follow-up. The seizures occurred in the postpartum period in majority of women (55%), while 45% had seizures before labor, and the rest (5%) during labor. Interestingly, one third of the women suffered their first seizures more than 48 h postpartum (late postpartum eclampsia). A sizable minority suffered more than one seizure and some had documented partial seizures. Headache preceded seizures by more than a day and was described as throbbing or pounding pain by most. The visual symptoms in decreasing frequency were blurring, blindness, scotoma and visual processing deficits. The most common finding during the neurological exam was memory deficits, followed by increased deep tendon reflexes (asymmetric in some), visual perception deficits, visual information processing deficits, altered mental status and cranial nerve deficits. Intracranial or intraspinal pressure when examined was elevated. Among neuroimaging studies, MRI was more sensitive compared to CT scan. The MRI abnormalities included both white as well as gray matter and the most common location of abnormalities was high frontal/parietal lobe. The laboratory studies revealed proteinuria in majority, but not in all. The liver function tests were abnormal in many, while few patients had HELLP syndrome. The neurological deficits resolved by the time of discharge in all. At follow-up, some patients developed new neurological problems such as recurrent headaches or seizures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Eclampsia / metabolism
  • Eclampsia / pathology*
  • Eclampsia / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurologic Examination / methods*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tomography Scanners, X-Ray Computed