Magnesium sulphate in the treatment of eclampsia and pre-eclampsia: an overview of the evidence from randomised trials


Correspondence: Dr P. F. W. Chien, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee DD1 SSY, UK.


Objective To evaluate the effectiveness of magnesium sulphate in the treatment of eclampsia and pre-eclampsia by a systematic quantitative overview of controlled clinical trials.

Design Online searching of the MEDLINE database between 1966 and 1995, and scanning of the bibliography of known primary studies and review articles on the use of magnesium sulphate in eclampsia and pre-eclampsia. Study selection, study quality assessment and data extraction were performed independently by two reviewers under masked conditions. Where possible outcome data from trials were pooled and summarised using the Mantel-Haenszel method.

Participants One thousand seven hundred and forty-three women with eclampsia and 2390 with pre-eclampsia included in nine randomised trials that evaluated the effects of magnesium sulphate.

Main outcome measures Seizure activity and maternal death.

Results In eclampsia, recurrence of seizures was less common with magnesium sulphate therapy compared with phenytoin (odds ratio [OR] 0.27, 95% CI, P= 0.00) and diazepam (OR 0–41, 95% CI 0.30–0.57, P= 0.00). As indicated by the point estimate, there was a trend towards a reduction in maternal mortality with magnesium sulphate in eclampsia (OR 0.51,95% CI 0.24–1.07, P= 0.10versus phenytoin; OR 0.78, 95% CI 0.41–1.45, P= 0.52versus diazepam). When used for seizure prophylaxis in pre-eclampsia, magnesium sulphate was found to be more effective than phenytoin (OR 0.15, 95% CI 0.03–0.72, P= 0.01).

Conclusion Magnesium sulphate is a superior drug in preventing the recurrence of seizures in eclampsia and in seizure prophylaxis in pre-eclampsia.