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Toxemia : Symptoms, Causes, Complications and Treatment

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Overview

Toxemia is a  health condition that can occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. High blood pressure, protein in the urine, swelling, headaches, and blurred vision are some symptoms experienced by women suffering from toxemia. Typically, the condition ends after delivery.

The blog comprehensively explains toxemia, symptoms, causes, and preventive measures.

What is toxemia?

Toxemia occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy, resulting from high blood pressure and causes high protein levels in the urine and may affect other organs. It can be dangerous to the mother and the developing fetus.

What are the symptoms of toxemia?

Women may not notice any symptoms of toxemia. However, some of the common symptoms include:

  1. Chronic headaches
  2. Upper abdominal pain
  3. Unusual swelling in the hands and face
  4. Nausea or vomiting
  5. Sudden weight gain
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Changes in the vision, such as blurry vision or seeing spots

Women need to share all their symptoms with the doctor because many of them are unaware they are suffering from toxemia until their blood pressure and urine are checked during a prenatal appointment.

The symptoms of severe toxemia can include the following:

  1. Hypertensive emergency (blood pressure that is 160/110 mmHg or above)
  2. Decreased kidney or liver function
  3. Fluid in the lungs
  4. Low blood platelet levels, also knowns as thrombocytopenia
  5. Decreased urine production

In case of severe toxemia, the women may have to be admitted to the hospital for closer observation or early labour as soon as possible. Medications are given to control high blood pressure and help quickly develop the baby’s lungs before delivery.

When should the woman see the doctor?

Toxemia can be a fatal condition for women during pregnancy. When women are being treated for this condition, they must ensure that they attend all their appointments and blood or urine tests. They must immediately contact the doctor or go to an emergency room when they have severe headaches, blurred vision or other visual disturbances, belly pain, or shortness of breath.

What are the causes of toxemia?

The exact cause of toxemia is not known . The blood supply to the placenta can reduce in women suffering from this condition, leading to problems for both the woman and the fetus.

 What are the risk factors of toxemia?

The risk factors for toxemia include: 

  1. First pregnancy
  2. Obesity
  3. Multiple pregnancies (twins or more)
  4. History of toxemia
  5. Family history of toxemia
  6. Being older than age 35
  7. Being African American
  8. Having a history of diabetes, thyroid disease, high blood pressure, or kidney disease

What are the complications of toxemia?

If left untreated, toxemia is a severe condition that can be life-threatening for the woman and their baby. The other complications may include the following: 

  1. Bleeding problems because of low platelet levels
  2. Damage to the liver
  3. Kidney failure
  4. Pulmonary edema (a condition caused by too much fluid in the lungs)
  5. Seizures
  6. Placental abruption (A severe pregnancy complication in which the placenta detaches from the uterus)

How is toxemia treated?

The primary treatment for toxemia is to either deliver the baby or control the condition until the time is appropriate to deliver the baby. The doctor’s decision depends on the severity of the condition, the baby’s gestational age, and the overall health of the woman and their baby.

When the toxemia is mild, the doctors regularly monitor for any changes in signs and symptoms, and check the baby’s health. Doctors may ask women to monitor their blood pressure daily at home. The following are specific treatment options:

Treatment of severe toxemia

To treat severe toxemia, women need to be in the hospital so that doctors can monitor their blood pressure and watch out for possible complications. The doctors will monitor the growth and well-being of the baby regularly. The medications used for the treatment of severe toxemia generally include:

  • Antihypertensive drugs to reduce the blood pressure
  • Anticonvulsant medicines, such as magnesium sulfate, to stop seizures
  • Corticosteroids to assist in the development of the baby’s lungs before delivery

Delivery

If women suffer from toxemia that is not severe, the doctor can suggest preterm delivery after 37 weeks. The doctor will probably recommend delivery before 37 weeks if women suffer from severe toxemia. This decision will depend on the severity and the baby’s health and readiness.

The delivery method (vaginal or cesarean) depends on the severity of the disease, the baby’s gestational age, and other considerations .

After delivery

Women must be monitored closely for high blood pressure and other signs of toxemia after delivery. Doctors instruct new mothers on when to seek medical care if they display the symptoms of postpartum toxemia, including severe headache, vision change, belly pain, nausea and vomiting.

How can women lower their risk of getting toxemia?

For women with risk factors, there are specific steps that they can take before and during pregnancy to reduce their chance of developing toxemia. The steps include:

  1. Weight loss if women suffer from obesity (before pregnancy-related weight gain)
  2. Managing blood pressure and blood sugar (if women suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes before pregnancy)
  3. Regular exercise
  4. Good sleep
  5. Low salt diet and
  6. Avoid caffeine

Conclusion

Toxemia is a severe health condition that women may not be aware of . Women must attend all their prenatal appointments and discuss  about all the symptoms they feel during pregnancy. When toxemia is detected early, doctors can treat and control it to keep the woman and baby safe and healthy. Most women who suffer from toxemia go on to have healthy babies.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does stress cause toxemia?

While stress can have an impact on blood pressure, stress is not one of the direct causes of toxemia. While women can have some stress during pregnancy, avoiding high-stress situations or learning to manage the stress is a better idea. 

2. What week of pregnancy does toxemia begin?

Toxemia usually occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. However, women can develop this condition earlier as well. Most toxemia cases happen at or near term (37 weeks gestation). It can also come between the first few days to one week after delivery (postpartum toxemia). In rare cases, toxemia begins weeks after delivery.

3. Does toxemia affect the baby?

Toxemia can cause preterm delivery, leading to an elevated risk for health complications, including low birth weight and respiratory issues.

4. Can women prevent toxemia?

If women have risk factors for toxemia, the doctor can suggest women start taking aspirin in early pregnancy (by 12 weeks gestation). Do not take any medications without consulting the obstetrician .

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