Preeclampsia is a precursor of eclampsia, a condition characterized by spasms and seizures that can be life-threatening for the expecting mother and her unborn child. According to a new review article that is published in the science journal Cureus, injections of magnesium sulfate have been tested as part of the treatment for severe preeclampsia and related spasms. This therapy form has also been introduced in Denmark. It is important during pregnancy to get enough magnesium to prevent eclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a condition that affects around 3-5 percent of pregnant women. It is an early stage of eclampsia that is characterized by severe spasms and seizures. Eclampsia-related spasms are believed to be caused by local cerebral ischemia, which is an inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain. The condition occurs as a result of edemas and severe cerebral vasospasms that cause narrowing of arteries in the brain because of persistent contraction of the blood vessels.
Preeclampsia is characterized by the following parameters:
- Elevated blood pressure (above 140/90 mm Hg)
Preeclampsia normally develops gradually, beginning after the 20th week of gestation with symptoms growing increasingly worse up to delivery. Many pregnant women start by having fluid retention. Other symptoms are headache, discomfort, blurry vision, pain around the heart, and cramps in the calves. Preeclampsia can last anywhere from a few days to three weeks.
If preeclampsia develops into eclampsia-related spasms it may be lethal for the mother and her unborn child, so it is a serious illness that needs careful monitoring.
Severe hypertension is treated with anti-hypertensive medicine. At the slightest signs of life-threatening spasms or seizures, delivery is started to prevent an oxygen shortage that can result in brain damage to the child. Every year, around 63,000 women worldwide die of preeclampsia and seizures. The highest rate is seen in underdeveloped countries and among women of color.
A woman also has an increased risk of preeclampsia if:
- She is expecting her first child
- Already has elevated blood pressure
- Is overweight or has a high BMI
- Is expecting twins or triplets
- Is genetically predisposed
- Eats a poor diet and lacks nutrients
- The unborn baby has deformities
It remains unclear why some women develop preeclampsia, while others don’t. According to the new review article, it is believed that placental dysfunction plays a major role in preeclampsia because all the symptoms vanish as soon as the placenta has been discharged. It also appears that lack of magnesium plays a major role for a number of reasons, and intravenous or intramuscular injections of magnesium sulfate may be an effective treatment.
Magnesium is one of the minerals that we humans need in the largest quantities to support our bones, nerve impulses, muscle contractions, blood pressure, maintenance of electrolytes, estrogen balance, and a number of other functions.
Magnesium is primarily found inside the cells where it supports well over 300 different biochemical reactions. Magnesium also makes sure that cells in soft tissues such as nerve tissue, muscle tissue, and blood vessels are practically devoid of calcium. If calcium ions flood these cells, it may trigger cramps and other imbalances. In a sense, magnesium is nature’s calcium channel blocker.
Treating eclampsia spasms with magnesium sulfate
It is already known that supplements of magnesium can lower elevated blood pressure. Also, studies show that magnesium sulfate is effective for treating eclampsia spasms or to prevent these spasms in women with preeclampsia. Ongoing eclampsia spasms or seizures are treated by injecting magnesium sulfate in to the veins or muscles. This does not cause serious side effects in the mother or the baby.
In Denmark, magnesium sulfate is used to prevent seizures in expecting mothers with severe preeclampsia and to treat eclampsia spasms.
Magnesium sulfate inhibits spasms in the central nervous system and prevents calcium ions from entering muscle cells and cells in other soft tissues. In fact, magnesium sulfate works better than pharmaceutical calcium channel blockers. In their review article, the scientists write about several of magnesium sulfate’s mechanisms of action. Multiple studies have shown that magnesium sulfate therapy is able lower spasm-related mortality by 46 percent. The scientists also mention that magnesium sulfate can be used prophylactically on patients with mild preeclampsia. Unfortunately, magnesium sulfate treatments are limited in underdeveloped countries because of the expense of giving injections and collecting blood samples.
Because deaths caused by eclampsia spasms are rather common in this part of the world, the scientists behind the review article call for less expensive methods that are useful for prevention. Here, getting enough magnesium from the diet should be prioritized.
Magnesium sources, official recommendations, and causes for the widespread deficiencies
Magnesium is mainly found in coarse foods such as whole grain, kernels, almonds, nuts, seeds, beans, avocado, cabbage and other vegetables. In Denmark, the RI (reference intake) level is 375 mg daily. Lack of magnesium is primarily a result of nutrient-depleted farmland, refined foods, and unhealthy diets. The need for magnesium is also slightly greater during pregnancy. It is best if you can get enough magnesium from the diet. There are special pregnancy supplements that contain absorbable vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids for the mother and child, and they also include easily assimilable magnesium.
Jaskamal Padda et al. Efficacy of Magnesium Sulfate on Maternal Mortality in Eclampsia. Cureus 2021
Ditte Bach. Svangerskabsforgiftning/præeklampsi. www.babyinstituttet.dk
13. Magnesiumsulfat | Jordemoderforeningen
Gerry K. Schwalfenberg and Stephen J. Genuis. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica (Carro) 2017
Andrea Rosanoff et al. Essential Nutrient Interactions: Does Low or Suboptimal Magnesium Interact with Vitamin D and/or Calcium status. Advances in Nutrition 2016
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