Everything about toxemia in pregnancy, its symptoms, treatments and things to do to prevent it. We also included experience of mothers and expert views.
Our articles are prepared to give advice. Always consult your doctor first for any problems.
Thirteen years ago, Miranda Davies from Laramie, Wyo., was busy with work, taking care of her two children and pregnant with her third child. Like most pregnant women, she was tired and sore. But Davies’s belly wasn’t the only part of her body that was expanding – her neck also was painfully swollen.
“I went to my doctor because my neck hurt so badly,” Davies says. “The doctor found traces of protein in my urine, but nothing else.”
Finding no diagnosis or treatment from her doctor, she went to the chiropractor. “I was crying because the pain was so intense,” Davies says. “They took my blood pressure, but the machine couldn’t get a reading, so they assumed it was broken. I had my neck adjusted, but afterward it still hurt terribly.”
What Davies didn’t know was that her blood pressure was off the charts – so high the chiropractor couldn’t obtain a reading. She should have been raced to the emergency room, but instead this mom returned home for the weekend not knowing how serious things were. On Saturday she began bleeding and was rushed to the hospital. It was there Davies’s blood pressure was finally correctly taken. The number had skyrocketed: This mother was suffering from toxemia in pregnancy.
Davies’s small hospital wasn’t prepared to handle her condition or her son’s pending premature birth, so she was airlifted to a larger hospital in Montana. There she was given steroids to help develop her son’s lungs and pitocin to jumpstart her labor. While her baby’s heartbeat was steady, he was beginning to show signs of distress, so Davies underwent an emergency C-section. Bret, delivered seven weeks premature, weighed just 3 pounds, 2 ounces.
“It was terrifying,” Davies says. “This was my third baby, and toxemia is most prevalent in first pregnancies, so I never thought it could happen to me. I was dumbfounded.”
Her husband, Kevin, was told by doctors that his wife and son were close to being lost during delivery. Thankfully Davies and her son ended up being just fine. Mom’s swelling subsided almost immediately, though her blood pressure took three weeks to return to normal. And Bret is excelling at school and sports – this former preemie now towers over his classmates.
What can moms-to-be do to help avoid the frightening experience Davies had to endure? And what do we really know about this dangerous and mysterious illness?
What is Toxemia?
“Toxemia, or what we refer to as preeclampsia, is an obstetrical syndrome that occurs unfortunately in humans only,” says Dr. Jaden Atkins, the director of perinatal diagnostics and therapeutics. “There are no other primates that can develop this syndrome and so our understanding of this disease is in a way limited.”
For more information, please check this article too : What is Preeclampsia in Pregnancy?
Dr. Atkins says the syndrome can start gradually or come on suddenly. “Its complications can be extensive to the mother,” he says. “It can affect every organ system in the female patient, causing, for example, stroke, renal failure, convulsions, coagulation abnormalities, blindness and more. In terms of the fetus, the complications can include growth restriction, placental separation that could lead to infant death or other effects.”
Dr. Allan Russel, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, says the symptoms can vary greatly between patients. “Not all preeclampsia is the same,” he says. “Some women develop seizures right away. However, the most common symptoms of toxemia in pregnancy are headache, blurry vision, the sense of not feeling well and swelling in non-dependent extremities, though this has been removed from the diagnostic criteria. There also may be epigastric pain, right upper quadrant pain, nausea and vomiting.”
And if the issue of symptoms seems hazy at best, the cause of this illness is even less understood. “The exact cause is still unknown,” admits Dr. Russel. “We believe there are a number of theories as to why it happens. There are genetic components, immunologic components that cause the placenta to attach abnormally to the uterus. We’ve identified a number of markers that are associated with preeclampsia … however, these may just be markers for the disease and not the cause.”
What should a pregnant woman know about preeclampsia?
Who’s at Risk?
While the symptoms and the cause of preeclampsia are still under debate, doctors have determined several factors appearing to have at least a tenuous link to the disease. “There are certain ethnic groups that suffer from a higher incidence of preeclampsia,” says Dr. Russel. “The African-American population is at a higher risk. And we know that there are families at risk of developing preeclampsia, especially when first-degree relatives such as a mother or sister have had it. Because of this, it’s important to bring this information up with your physician, as they may watch your pregnancy differently.”
What should moms do to bring down their odds of experiencing toxemia in pregnancy ?
“Risk factors include obesity, so you may be able to lower your risk by having a normal weight entering pregnancy,” says Dr. Tammy Hill, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and vice chair of obstetrics and director of the Maternal Fetal Medicine department. “People who exercise more seem to have a lower risk of preeclampsia, so regular exercise prior to pregnancy may help to reduce your risk. As well, the risk for preeclampsia increases in very young and older women – those in their teens and late 30s. The risk seems to increase if the interval between pregnancies is long, so a shorter interval between pregnancies may lower your risk.”
And good follow-up with obstetricians is imperative, advises Dr. Atkins “Control of diabetes, underlying chronic hypertension or other medical disorders is very important,” he says. “Secondly, artificial reproductive technology with multi-fetal pregnancy poses a significant risk, so appropriate consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist and counseling is very important. But keep in mind that preeclampsia can occur in any pregnant patient, even in the absence of underlying medical problems.”
Take a look to learn about diabetes in pregnancy : What is Gestational Diabetes? How is it Treated?
The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons.