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Eclampsia is a serious medical condition involving seizures during pregnancy. Eclampsia during pregnancy can put the baby and mother at serious risk of injury or death. Eclampsia is generally preceded by preeclampsia but seizures can occur with or without any other symptoms. Failure to properly monitor and treat a patient with eclampsia can increase the risk of injury or death in both the mother and the baby. 

What is Eclampsia?

Eclampsia involves seizures or convulsions in a pregnant woman with preeclampsia.   Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that is characterized by high blood pressure and organ damage, usually in the kidneys or liver. After a woman develops preeclampsia, she may be at risk of eclampsia, which can be more serious for the baby and mother. 

Eclampsia can occur during pregnancy, during delivery, or even after delivery. Eclampsia generally occurs during the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Preeclampsia may affect about 1 in 20 pregnancies, with eclampsia occurring in about 1 in 100 pregnancies. 

The seizures are generally categorized as tonic-clonic, or grand mal seizures. These types of seizures, associated with epilepsy, produce convulsive muscle contractions across the body. The seizure may begin without warning and the individual loses consciousness. Muscles may constrict and relax rapidly for about a minute. After the convulsions, the individual will generally be confused upon regaining consciousness and gradually become aware of their surroundings.  

Causes of Eclampsia

Eclampsia and preeclampsia may be caused by irregular development of the blood vessels in the placenta. During pregnancy, new blood vessels develop to provide blood flow to the placenta. Irregularly developed blood vessels may be narrow, limiting the amount of blood and oxygen to the fetus. Interruptions to the development of blood vessels can be caused by damage, immune system problems, or reduced blood flow to the uterus. 

Risk factors of eclampsia are the same as for preeclampsia, which include: 

  • Chronic hypertension
  • First pregnancy
  • Young women or women over the age of 35
  • Multiple pregnancies (twins or triplets or more)
  • Family or personal history of preeclampsia
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Lupus
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Prior preeclampsia 

Pregnant women who are at higher risk of developing preeclampsia may be prescribed aspirin, calcium supplements, or blood pressure medication to reduce the risk of developing the high blood pressure and liver or kidney problems. 

Signs and Symptoms of Eclampsia

Eclampsia begins with preeclampsia, with a diagnosis by high blood pressure and another sign of organ dysfunction, including: 

  • Protein in the urine
  • Low platelet count
  • Impaired liver function
  • Impaired kidney function
  • Fluid in the lungs

When the patient goes from preeclampsia to eclampsia, there may be additional signs that the patient is at risk of a seizure. These signs can also develop after the individual has a seizure. In some patients, none of the symptoms develop. Eclampsia symptoms may include: 

  • Persistent headaches
  • Visual disturbances, including loss of vision or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting

Complications of Eclampsia and Injuries

Complications and risks to the mother and baby begin with preeclampsia. With high blood pressure, the blood flow to the baby can be reduced, resulting in slower fetal development. High blood pressure may also increase the risk of placental abruption, where the placenta begins to separate from the uterus before birth. Seizures associated with eclampsia can be a significant danger to both the mother and baby.

Dangers of Eclampsia to the Mother

Eclampsia carries multiple risks to the mother, including vision problems and pulmonary edema. During a seizure, the individual may be at risk of inhaling contents of the mouth or stomach, or aspiration. Fluid or material in the lungs can lead to aspiration pneumonia. Oxygen supply can also be compromised during the seizure, putting the mother and baby at risk of oxygen deprivation injuries, including brain damage

Dangers of Eclampsia to the Baby

Organ damage caused by preeclampsia can damage the organs of the fetus. Seizures in the mother may cause the baby to have a rapid heart rate, increasing the risk to the baby. Lower oxygen levels may put the baby’s brain at risk of injury or permanent damage, leading to developmental delays or birth injuries. 

Preeclampsia and Medical Malpractice

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that can be dangerous for the mother and baby. Doctors and healthcare professionals should monitor and treat a patient with preeclampsia to reduce the risk of seizure. Failure to treat or monitor a woman with preeclampsia can put the mother and baby at risk of injury and at risk of developing eclampsia. If a healthcare professional fails to follow the standard of care, it can cause harm or death to the baby and mother.  A breach of duty of care that results in injury or damage may be medical malpractice

If the mother or baby is injured because of a doctor’s negligence, the family can file a medical malpractice lawsuit to hold the doctor accountable. A malpractice claim allows the injury victims to get compensation for their losses, including medical bills, future medical care, loss of support, and pain and suffering.

If the mother or baby dies as a result of the negligent care, the surviving family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim allows the family to hold the negligent party accountable when the victim is not able to. Damages in a wrongful death claim can provide for medical costs, loss of support, and funeral expenses. 

Failure to Treat and Failure to Monitor Preeclampsia

Eclampsia is associated with a higher risk of morbidity and mortality. Failure to treat and monitor the condition is dangerous for the mother and baby. Treatment generally involves delivery of the baby as soon as possible, depending on the conditions. Treatment also provides for preventing further seizures, lowering the mother’s blood pressure, and monitoring organ damage

Delivery of the baby can include inducing labor or delivery through C-section. Before and after delivery, the baby and mother need to be closely monitored for blood and oxygen levels, blood pressure, and organ failure. If the doctor fails to properly monitor the mother and baby, the risk of injury to the mother and baby can continue, even after delivery. 

Eclampsia and Preeclampsia Injury Attorneys

If a loved one suffered eclampsia during pregnancy resulting in death of the mother or injury to the child, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about holding the doctors and healthcare systems accountable. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.

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