Toxemia is a serious medical condition that usually affects women after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Also known as preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH), toxemia is characterized by sudden elevated blood pressure and the presence of excess protein in the urine. If toxemia is left undiagnosed and untreated, the continuous increase in blood pressure can lead to deadly complications for both mother and baby. In fact, toxemia and other diseases associated with high blood pressure are leading causes of maternal and infant mortality worldwide.
At present, there are no known causes that trigger the onset of this ailment. However, there are documented risk factors that may cause some women to be predisposed to toxemia.
1. Pregnancy. Being pregnant in itself carries the biggest risk of this problem. The incidence of toxemia is higher in first pregnancies, either with a woman's first partner or with a new partner. Women who become pregnant for the first time in a decade or longer are also at an increased risk. Additionally, multiple births increase a woman's risk of developing this condition. Past medical statistics have shown that toxemia occurs more often in women carrying twins, triplets, or more children.
2. Medical history. Women who have previously suffered from pregnancy-induced high blood pressure are more likely to develop toxemia again. A history of the condition in other female relatives' pregnancies also places a woman at higher risk. Women with other existing conditions, such as kidney disease, chronic high blood pressure, and diabetes, tend to develop toxemia as well.
3. Age. While being pregnant past the age of 35 raises the risk of toxemia, the condition can also appear in younger women, particularly those who are under 20 years of age at the time of pregnancy.
4. Weight problems. Having an ideal pre-pregnancy weight according to body-mass index (BMI) calculations is essential to prevent the onset of toxemia. Women with a BMI above 30 stand the risk of this condition during their pregnancies.
The most obvious symptoms of toxemia are raised blood pressure and protein excess in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy. These symptoms are usually discovered during regular prenatal checkups. If these symptoms are present, doctors keep a close eye on the progress of both mother and baby to determine whether the symptoms are a one-time occurrence or signs of this dangerous disease. Other less obvious but noteworthy symptoms are sudden weight gain of more than two pounds per week, swelling in the hands and face, upper right abdominal pains, blurred or temporary loss of vision, and decreased urine output.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for toxemia except for the delivery of the baby, after which blood pressure should return to normal within a few days. Nevertheless, delivery may not be possible if toxemia has set in too early in the pregnancy. In this case, doctors may try to delay delivery to allow the baby to mature sufficiently before inducing labor or performing a Cesarean section. Treatments during this period include a combination of bed rest with limited physical activities and medications to lower blood pressure.
It is always disheartening for a mother-to-be to discover that her pregnancy is complicated with the presence of toxemia. Nonetheless, constant worrying and increased anxiety can only worsen the condition. Therefore, future mothers should try to remain optimistic and manage stress to reduce the dangerous effects of the disease on themselves and their babies.