Eclampsia is a puzzling hypertensive disorder affecting only women. Associated solely with pregnancy and childbirth, it is an epileptic form of convulsions that develops during the second half of pregnancy and disappears after conception. The severity depends upon the degree and timing of the illness as well as the characteristics of the patient. Eclampsia is associated with hypertension, edema, and toxemia, and all three can cause the symptoms of the disease to vary widely. Preeclampsia refers to hypertension, abnormal edema, or proteinuria during pregnancy, whereas eclampsia is the disease's most extreme form, manifested by severe convulsions, coma, and even death. Eclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and fetal mortality and can cause stillbirths or premature labor. Medical experts remain confused about the cause of this disorder and have no effective way to cure the disease other than to terminate pregnancy by delivering the baby. Through careful prenatal care, however, physicians can usually control the problem, and it is now relatively rare in the United States and Europe.

Not only is the disease difficult to define, but also accurate records of its existence are rare, especially in Third World countries where prenatal care by a medical attendant is uncommon. Although eclampsia is one of the diseases most troubling to obstetricians, research on the illness is difficult because it is found only in human beings. Its etiology remains unknown but may be multifactorial.

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