Mentor: Anita K. Blanchard, MD
Editor: Roger Smith, MD
Eclampsia is defined as preeclampsia related new onset generalized tonic-clonic seizures and can result in significant morbidity and death. Postpartum eclampsia accounts for 10 to 44% of all cases of eclampsia. The differential diagnoses of postpartum seizures includes hypertensive encephalopathy, cerebrovascular accident, cerebral venous thrombosis, infection, metabolic abnormalities, and drug intoxication or withdrawal. The majority of patients with postpartum eclampsia present within a week of delivery. Early hospital discharge is the norm, so postpartum hypertensive disorders can go unrecognized, impairing the ability to prevent eclampsia.
The majority of women with postpartum eclampsia recall one or more prodromal symptoms. Headache is the most common symptom, preceding seizure by hours to days. Discharge instructions may lack information about the signs, symptoms, and possibility of postpartum preeclampsia and eclampsia. As a result, only one third of patients with postpartum eclampsia seek medical care after discharge. When sought, it is often from primary or emergency department health care providers who may be not be adequately familiar with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Many women who present with postpartum eclampsia have not previously had signs or symptoms of preeclampsia.
Eclampsia is diagnosed clinically based on generalized tonic-clonic seizures, which are sometimes accompanied by visual disturbances, headaches, epigastric or right upper quadrant pain, and altered mental status. Hyper-reflexia and non-dependent edema may be present. Laboratory abnormalities may include elevated liver transaminases, thrombocytopenia, proteinuria, hypoalbuminemia, and hyperuricemia. Laboratory values may be normal or only minimally abnormal. Overt proteinuria and severe range blood pressures are less prevalent in late onset postpartum eclampsia (2 to 6 weeks postpartum), which also may confound the diagnosis. Electroencephalogram has limited value in distinguishing seizures due to eclampsia from other causes. MRI can support the diagnosis and rule out other causes of new onset convulsions. The classic finding is symmetric, extensive vasogenic edema in the parieto-occipital region described as reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy. The posterior cerebral edema is best treated by normalizing blood pressures, diuresis, and administering magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate should be continued at least 24 to 48 hours after the last seizure.
Improved awareness and heightened surveillance are important measures to identify women with increased risk. Improved patient education with verbal counseling and written discharge information including danger signs and symptoms may impact the incidence of this condition. After delivery, patients may need an extended inpatient stay for further monitoring. Early follow up after discharge within 3-10 days is advised and based on the severity of the hypertension. Collaborative efforts to improve symptom recognition among primary care providers may promote early intervention.
ACOG Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Hypertension in Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Washington, DC, 2013.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Optimizing postpartum care. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 736. Obstet Gynecol. 2018 May;131(5):e140-e150. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002633.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - Committee on Obstetric Practice, Committee Opinion No. 692: Emergent Therapy for Acute-Onset, Severe Hypertension During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Apr;129(4):e90-e95. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002019.
Initial Approval November 2015; Reaffirmed January 2017; Revised July 2018
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