Magnesium sulphate and other anticonvulsants for women with pre-eclampsia

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Nov 10;2010(11):CD000025. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000025.pub2.


Background: Eclampsia, the occurrence of a seizure (fit) in association with pre-eclampsia, is rare but potentially life-threatening. Magnesium sulphate is the drug of choice for treating eclampsia. This review assesses its use for preventing eclampsia.

Objectives: To assess the effects of magnesium sulphate, and other anticonvulsants, for prevention of eclampsia.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (4 June 2010), and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials Register (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 3).

Selection criteria: Randomised trials comparing anticonvulsants with placebo or no anticonvulsant, or comparisons of different drugs, for pre-eclampsia.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors assessed trial quality and extracted data independently.

Main results: We included 15 trials. Six (11,444 women) compared magnesium sulphate with placebo or no anticonvulsant: magnesium sulphate more than a halved the risk of eclampsia (risk ratio (RR) 0.41, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.29 to 0.58; number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) 100, 95% CI 50 to 100), with a non-significant reduction in maternal death (RR 0.54, 95% CI 0.26 to 1.10) but no clear difference in serious maternal morbidity (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.32). It reduced the risk of placental abruption (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.83; NNTB 100, 95% CI 50 to 1000), and increased caesarean section (RR 1.05, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.10). There was no clear difference in stillbirth or neonatal death (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.15). Side effects, primarily flushing, were more common with magnesium sulphate (24% versus 5%; RR 5.26, 95% CI 4.59 to 6.03; number need to treat for an additional harmful outcome (NNTH) 6, 95% CI 5 to 6).Follow-up was reported by one trial comparing magnesium sulphate with placebo: for 3375 women there was no clear difference in death (RR 1.79, 95% CI 0.71 to 4.53) or morbidity potentially related to pre-eclampsia (RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.55 to 1.26) (median follow-up 26 months); for 3283 children exposed in utero there was no clear difference in death (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.57 to 1.84) or neurosensory disability (RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.38 to 1.58) at age 18 months.Magnesium sulphate reduced eclampsia compared to phenytoin (three trials, 2291 women; RR 0.08, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.60) and nimodipine (one trial, 1650 women; RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.77).

Authors' conclusions: Magnesium sulphate more than halves the risk of eclampsia, and probably reduces maternal death. There is no clear effect on outcome after discharge from hospital. A quarter of women report side effects with magnesium sulphate.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Eclampsia / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnesium Sulfate / adverse effects
  • Magnesium Sulfate / therapeutic use*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Magnesium Sulfate