NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Among women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy, an increased risk of epilepsy is present in their children who are born after 37 weeks of pregnancy, according to a report in the current issue of Pediatrics.

Preeclampsia, a condition that develops after the 20th week of pregnancy, is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. The best treatment is to deliver the infant. If this is not feasible, bed rest, close monitoring, and delivery as soon survival outside of the womb is likely is recommended, preferably after the 37th week of pregnancy. Women are usually hospitalized and carefully monitored.

Prior research has identified eclampsia as a strong risk factor for epilepsy in offspring, but whether the same held true with preeclampsia was unclear, Dr. Chun Sen Wu, with the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and colleagues explain. Eclampsia occurs when pre-eclampsia worsens and is characterized by seizures, agitation and unconsciousness. Eclampsia is considered a medical emergency and jeopardizes the life of the mother and child.

The researchers reviewed data from the Danish National Hospital Register containing 1.5 million infants born from 1978 to 2003. From these data, the research team identified 45,288 (2.9 percent) children exposed to preeclampsia and 654 (0.04 percent) exposed to eclampsia.

The preeclampsia group comprised 34,823 children exposed to mild preeclampsia and 7043 exposed to severe preeclampsia, and in 3422 cases, the severity was not specified.

The researchers found that 20,620 of the subjects developed epilepsy during follow-up of up to 27 years.

As noted, preeclampsia exposure was also linked to epilepsy in children born after 37 weeks of gestation. With mild preeclampsia, the epilepsy rate was increased by 16 and 68 percent for full-term and postterm infants, respectively. For severe preeclampsia, the corresponding risks increased by 41 percent and 157 percent.

By contrast, preeclampsia was not linked to epilepsy in preterm infants, the report indicates.

Consistent with previous reports, eclampsia was associated with a stronger risk of epilepsy.

The authors conclude that "preeclampsia or its related pathologies may increase the susceptibilities to epilepsy later in life, or preeclampsia and epilepsy may also share common causative factors."

SOURCE: Pediatrics, November 2008.