• Dr. Joy

Levels to This: Eclampsia & High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

Beyonce had toxemia. Kenya Moore had preeclampsia. What is it with black women, pregnancy and “the pressure”? Black women are at increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension or plain old high blood pressure while preggers. This series will guide you on the different levels to elevated pressures in pregnancy, starting with the most severe form, eclampsia. Stay informed for yourself, your loved ones and your community. Recognizing the signs and symptoms could save a sister’s life.

What is Eclampsia?

Most women wonder what the fuss is with having elevated blood pressure in pregnancy or why should they care. Well words are powerful and the main culprit obstetricians and birth workers worry about is eclampsia or seizures in pregnancy. Eclampsia literally means lightning in greek. You never know when lightning is going to strike but there are certain weather conditions that produce lightning and that is exactly how eclampsia behaves. While you won’t know when a woman will seize in pregnancy there are predictors to suggest you should protect her from seizing. These include:

Signs [Things You See]

  • Swelling of the eyelids

  • Swelling of the hands

  • Newly elevated blood pressure (if you have a cuff at home)

Symptoms [ Things You Experience]

  • Severe or persistent headache

  • Seeing spots or flashes of light (basically lightning that isn’t there)

  • Chest pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • New nausea and vomiting

  • Pain under your right breastbone

  • Incredible sense of doom

These are also the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia, which is a level below eclampsia, but we will get to this later. Remember, there are levels to this.

So what do you do if you or someone you know or love has these signs or symptoms? You send them directly to the hospital for evaluation. If you do not catch it early and you see a pregnant woman seize, ensure that she cannot hurt herself or her belly while seizing by holding her laying on her side and ask for someone to call 911 immediately for assistance. Generally, eclamptic seizures are short-lived and last 2-5 minutes usually, but moms can seize again which is why it is important to get medical attention.

An electrolyte or medication named magnesium is given at a high dose to prevent more seizures. Pregnant mothers who seize and have eclampsia typically are delivered once they are stable to prevent further seizing as well. Once an eclamptic seizure has happened, the baby needs to be delivered urgently as well because oxygenation is not always guaranteed during a seizure. Since seizures are so serious, there may not be time to give medications to the mom to aid with the baby’s development prior to delivery. We will talk about delivery as a prevention method in preeclampsia. Stay tuned!


Important Statistics:

  1. Eclampsia is very rare, affecting only 1-3% of pregnancies

  2. The rate of preeclampsia & eclampsia for black women is 50% higher than all other women

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