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What is Toxemia?

By Aniza Pourtauborde
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon927063 — On Jan 22, 2014

Brewer's Diet is great for preventing toxemia. Also, having levels of 50-70 ng/ml vitamin D3 is great at preventing this too. You should never take folic acid, should always take folate instead. For me to keep my levels at 70-80 ng/ml, I have to take 100,000 iu of liquid vitamin D3 each day. I took 150,000 iu each day for three months and got to 96 ng/ml (great level for preventing/reversing cancer).

Also, those with the kidney issues, check out Juniper Berry essential oil. It is amazing stuff and works fast at healing your kidney, relieving pain from kidney stones, etc. I use doTERRA oils, but make sure to find a quality essential oil.

By anon307274 — On Dec 04, 2012

I had my first child at age 18 and it was not at all a good experience for me. My weight was originally around 100 pounds and when I went into labor my weight was 211 pounds. I thankfully lost all the water weight and may have lost a few more pounds than my normal weight. My doctor didn't pay any attention to my pregnancy, to my concern.

He would not answer my calls and at the time I went into labor, he again would not answer the phone calls and he was not there for delivery. The doctors at the hospital delivered my son and I thank God they did because they saved my son and me as well.

The toxemia started almost immediately in my pregnancy and the doctor didn't mention it to me until I was five or six months pregnant. I had appendicitis, high blood pressure, toxemia and placenta abruptio. I had an appendectomy about six months and then was hospitalized from there for almost a month because I went into natural labor and the hospital stopped it and didn't tell me or my family until I noticed the contractions on the paper that was printing that they were monitoring. I then changed hospitals, but the next day and that hospital told me they were going to give it a week to see if my son would grow because I was all water weight. During that week they said there was not time to wait because he wasn't growing. They delivered my son at about seven months. He was born weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces. He was small, but thanks to that hospital, they made sure he was OK.

I am now pregnant again five years later, and I am not going with the same doctor. I have switched and go see him in a couple of days and will let him know everything about my first pregnancy, and hopefully he can monitor and watch things.

By anon253337 — On Mar 08, 2012

Why hasn't anyone mentioned the Brewer Diet for pregnancy! Toxemia can be avoided in most cases or lessened, simply by adding salt to your diet and getting 80-100 grams of protein a day. I have had five children and have been teaching natural childbirth classes for 12 years. I have seen it work time and time again.

By anon189924 — On Jun 24, 2011

Further to post 25. A notice in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane Australia), my local newspaper reported a possible link between Vitamin D deficiencies and pre-eclampsia. Prenatal vitamins or supplements were never recommended to me 24 years ago. I notice vitamin supplements, especially folate, seem to be routine now.

If you are worried about pre-ecalmpsia and toxemia, I'd recommend you discuss Vitamin D levels and this link with your GP or Gyno. After all, we all want our doctors and specialists to be recommending up to date research to pregnant mothers.

By anon166764 — On Apr 10, 2011

I had this issue when I was pregnant with my first child. I went into labor three days past my due date and then died for a a short time during delivery but was revived. They almost had to do a c section.

After that, I had two more children and was high risk with both but since my doctor knew of my medical history, I was on bed rest with the last two and both were born healthy.

The first child was also born healthy. With the last child I had fainting spells, but I have had those since i was about 16. I am now 33 and still struggle with high blood pressure.

By anon164819 — On Apr 02, 2011

I carried my last child, who is seven now, 40 weeks.

I was diagnosed with toxemia after i was re-admitted into the hospital after delivery. I was near death and I am afraid to have children again. I have seen two young women locally die from toxemia. I am pregnant now again eight years later and do not want to continue this pregnancy due to the severe complications i had.

By anon164222 — On Mar 30, 2011

At 35 weeks i began feeling very sick, almost like the flu. I was throwing up, had a severe headache, was seeing spots in front of my eyes and had very bad pains in my right side. I called my doctor and they told me i had the flu.

I went to my weekly checkup six days later and was told everything was fine. Two days later, i called down to the hospital and was told to come in that i might be in labor. When i got to the hospital, they scheduled me immediately for a c section, saying that there was no time to waste. My blood pressure was 200 something over 100 something, and i was immediately started on magnesium.

Within 2 1/2 hours after going to the hospital, i had a beautiful baby girl. I do not remember the delivery as they knocked me out to do the c section and i did not regain consciousness until a day and a half later. All was perfect with my little girl and still is. I am not going to have any more children because of this, as the doctors told me had i not come to the hospital when i did, within two hours both my child and I would have been dead.

By anon164157 — On Mar 30, 2011

I am 33 years old and 20 weeks pregnant with twins, and this is my ninth pregnancy. i have four living children and had preeclampsia with every pregnancy.

I have very high amounts of protein in my urine, and high blood pressure and swelling also. The doctor continually blows me off and does not take me or the symptoms seriously.

I feel as women, we know our bodies and when something feels off. Best wishes to all you ladies out there. And if the doctor doesn't believe you, you have to keep pushing until he does. Do not ignore symptoms!

Headache, blurry vision, dizziness, little to no urine, swelling of hands feet or face, fast pulse and abdominal pain are symptoms to not be ignored! Good luck everyone.

By anon151897 — On Feb 11, 2011

24 years ago during my 36 week check up with my OBGYN I showed protein in my urine and swelling in my arms, legs and face. An internal revealed I had started to dilate. This was a morning consultation and I was booked into hospital for observation in the afternoon.

However, my husband had been admitted that day with suspected kidney stones so I visited him (fortunately at the same hospital) waiting until my admission. Shortly after arriving I started experiencing pain. As someone with chronic IBS, I went to the toilet and started to push; in hindsight this wasn't the best thing to do. I was admitted and napped. A short while later I was woken up with a warm sensation between my legs. I thought my waters had broken, however I had started hemorrhaging. Thankfully, the nurses and the registrar reacted quickly and I was shaved just before I started convulsing and whisked off to to surgery. My preemie son was born by C-Section shortly after.

I was told later we both had about 15 minutes before the condition would become fatal. I'd ballooned so much so that when my swelling came down none of the nurses recognized me. I didn't see my son until a day later. I was kept in for 10 days and my son in intensive care for a fortnight, then two more weeks in the neonatal ward until he gained weight.

Incubators, needles, sunglasses haven't hampered him in any way. He's played rugby, done well at school is very social, and now practices law. My second son was induced and delivered naturally at 38 weeks after my husband insisted I go to hospital with swollen legs.

I am now 48 being medicated for hypertension and cholesterol and wonder if anyone has done long term studies on the effects on women with toxemia/preeclampsia. My father had the same health issues (cholesterol B/P) so as much as diet is involved I could also be genetically predisposed. Kidneys do seem to be a common link with all my health issues and I'm curious to know if there are conclusive studies linking kidneys with toxemia/preeclampsia and long term health issues for women.

I can't determine from my research if it's a chicken and egg situation with blood pressure/kidneys and toxemia or if I'm facing Kidney failure in later life as a result. Your comments would be welcome.

By anon110322 — On Sep 11, 2010

It should be noted here that pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH) and Preeclampsia are not the same condition. PIH is an elevation of blood pressure after 20 weeks of gestation. Only about 25 percent of women with PIH will go on to develop preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is associated with elevated blood pressure, proteinuria and edema.

-from Obstetrics and Gynecology 6th ed., Charles Beckman

By anon103909 — On Aug 14, 2010

I was 21 years old with my first child when I got toxemia at 33 weeks. The doctor took me out of work and on bed rest at home for two weeks, but my blood pressure continued to rise and I swelled quite a bit, had bad headaches, yellow spots in my vision, and so was admitted to the hospital at 34 weeks and was given pitocin to start my labor.

They also gave me a nasty medication called magnesium sulfate in an IV which made me sick and tired. After my baby was born, she appeared healthy and her lungs were developed, but during the night she would stop breathing and they would have to shake her a little to get her to start breathing again. After a few times of that it was getting harder and harder for them to get her breathing so she was transported to a newborn ICU across town where she stayed for 2 1/2 weeks.

The doctor said that the magnesium they gave me went into her too and would cause her to forget to breathe. I had my second child at 24 with no signs of toxemia.

By anon103315 — On Aug 11, 2010

at 19 i got pregnant with my first baby. At nine weeks my ankles began to swelling. At 12 weeks i asked my doctor, a student the local clinic, why was i swelling and what could we do about it.

she told me that she didn't know why and to rock back and forth to relieve the swelling. well i do not know what she thought was going to happen, but the swelling did go down.

By 16 weeks i went to have an ultrasound done and the doctor saw that my cervix was short and opening. so she put me in the hospital for a week. while in the the hospital i continued to swell in my feet, ankles, legs, hands and face. This was weeks 16 and 17. When i was released i was told to stay off my feet and on the next monday go see my doctor.

Well i go see my doctor and back to the hospital i went. by this time I'm 19 weeks and between weeks 16 and 20 i went from 175 pounds to 201 pounds. all they were telling me was that my baby was not growing and my blood pressure was high. i mean high -- 205/140 -- and even higher at times. so I'm on meds for my blood pressure and having ultrasounds daily to check my baby's growth, but she wasn't growing and i wasn't getting any better.

By this time they told me that i had severe preeclampsia or toxemia. By week 23 my feet were as big as footballs and i had gained another 12 pounds. At 25 weeks the same story only now i was having headaches and seeing spots; on top of that my liver enzyme levels began to become elevated. Then at 25 weeks and four days, my daughter was born via emergency c section. she weighed 14.4 oz.

To be so small, she did very well until she was four weeks old and caught an infection and passed away. after the birth my blood pressure went to normal and enzymes returned to normal, but the swelling in my right foot and leg didn't. i only lost 12 of the 48 pounds of the weight i gained in 25 weeks.

At 20 i got pregnant again. this time i began to see a regular ob and a high risk ob. my high risk ob put me on baby aspirins to help prevent the preeclampsia. it worked. Nothing happened, and i mean nothing. i had a scheduled c section at 36 week and 2 days. my son was born weighing 6 pounds 3 oz. It's been nearly five years since my daughter was born and i still have the swelling that will never go away.

By anon90000 — On Jun 14, 2010

I was in my first pregnancy, at age 20, and I went in for a routine prenatal visit at about 35 weeks. My blood pressure was slightly elevated and I had some swelling in my feet, ankles, calves and hands.

My doctor then took me out of work and told me it was bed rest for the remaining time. She scheduled me to come back after the weekend to just monitor my blood pressure. Well sunday night, I got a bad headache that wouldn't go away, so when I went in to see her Monday I told her and when she saw my blood pressure she admitted me to the hospital right away.

Later that day, she came in for her evening routines and no change in blood pressure or headache so she started the pitocin. I had my daughter 22 hours later, by Cesarean, because labor wasn't progressing.

But, as soon as I had her, my blood pressure started going down and both she and I were perfect. We both left the hospital in three days. I was so grateful for having such a great doctor. Then with my second, at age 23, I had told the doctor, new one this time around since we moved, about my issues with my first pregnancy so he sent me to a specialist. So I was under his care and a specialist which made me feel good! I was seeing doctors two or three times a month and at about 28 weeks was seeing the specialist three days a week and at 34.5 weeks my blood pressure was elevated and I had a little protein in my urine.

They had me lie on my left side and with a little rest, it went down so they sent me home and I was to come back in the morning. Well later that night, I was feeling really weird, anxiety, and my heart beat was different. So I drove myself to the hospital, since hubby wasn't home from work, and when I got there my blood pressure was 234/140.

The nurses looked at me and were surprised I was even alive. Of course, the doctor was called and the IV's went in and I was scheduled for a cesarean the next morning. And again, I was lucky that both she and I were fine. I had a little complication after that baby: the worst migraine that lasted about five days after the birth. I kept telling the nurses while I was there but they just brushed me off and said the pain meds should help. Well, I got home and nothing changed. I couldn't even lie down; I sat on my recliner, barely sleeping, then on top of that I got a cold which gave me a bad cough, and trying to cough with just having a c-section, yeah -- ouch! It finally went away after I went to the ER, and they gave me some demerol. Ahh -- I slept for hours after that shot.

Then I had my third child at age 25, again had a new doctor, told him of the issues and he said they would keep an eye on it. This pregnancy started off as the easiest one, since I didn't gain that much weight, and felt good. Then at 34 weeks, my blood pressure was high, protein in the urine, and he had me collect my urine for 24 hours. When the results came in, my protein counts were even higher.

So he admitted me to the hospital, and then I was told I was going to be transferred to another hospital across town that has a better neonatal unit in case the baby's lungs were not developed.

So I demanded I take myself home because i was so worried about my other two children and i would have my mom take me to the hospital across town.

Well, when i got there, they got me settled and did blood tests about every four hours, with each result a little worse than the others.

My liver enzymes were failing and the doctor told me the best thing was to get the baby out. That was going to be the only way to get me back to normal. So I listened to him and we were shuttled up to the OR. And again, she and I were fine.

My test results were slowly getting better and my blood pressure was lowering. The baby was great, breathing on her own and everything. So I have three beautiful girls, smart and just a joy. I have been thinking about having another one but not sure if it's fair to me or the baby to go through such a high risk pregnancy again. Not sure what to do.

By anon89206 — On Jun 09, 2010

I'm 24 weeks. My blood pressure has been borderline and higher, and my doctor is testing me for toxemia. I have had very little swelling in my hands and slight dizziness. could this just be due to pregnancy or toxemia?

By anon87016 — On May 27, 2010

The doctors may not have known much about Eclampsia when I had it with my first baby 40 years ago. I had swollen feet but nothing was said to me. Five weeks before my son was due I had a pain in my back, was taken to local hospital and woke up in another hospital.

My baby was still born and I was told I had Eclampsia and had been on a kidney machine after my kidneys failed during fits (which dislocated my shoulder).

I had the same problem with second baby 37 years ago. I knew nothing until I woke up in hospital. My son survived, but I was on a kidney machine again after having fits, and this time it occurred after the baby was born five weeks early again.

My kidneys started working again after treatment. I think my mother-in-law had it also. She lost nine babies, had fits and lost her sight temporarily.

By anon80008 — On Apr 25, 2010

I had toxemia with my second child. It was discovered after I started to swell a great deal during about the 38th week. My doctor did not pick up on it that day when I went to my regular appointment because it was not in my urine.

After I went home and began to swell again, I called and he sent me for a blood test at which point I was diagnosed with toxemia. My doctor told me not to stress and I was monitored closely through frequent appointments.

I delivered completely natural a beautiful baby girl with no complications. My advice is, if you feel there is something wrong do not let your doctor blow it off as normal.

You know yourself better than anyone and this will also be true when it comes to your baby.

By anon76231 — On Apr 09, 2010

My mother and brother died, she had toxemia that went undiagnosed. She had a convulsion. Her name was Sharon Elaine and by brother's name was Carl Lyn. I was five years old.

When I grew up and had my babies my body wouldn't produce labor because I had Tokophobia, a fear of childbirth. I thought I was going to die because I was pregnant, because that's what happened to my mother.

I had two of my pregnancies induced. With my last child I finally experienced the onset of labor naturally.

If you suspect Toxemia, please see a doctor.

By anon59271 — On Jan 07, 2010

When I was 19 I became Pregnant with my first child who was a boy. I gained 80 lbs total during my pregnancy and going from 110 pounds to almost 200 lbs made me feel miserable during my whole pregnancy. I could not fit into anything and I was on bed rest and had to quit my job because of the toxemia.

I am not married to a person who if not my sons biological father and now I am worried that I will get toxemia again in my next pregnancy since it may be caused from a new partner.

By anon58150 — On Dec 30, 2009

i had toxemia with my first son 15 months ago, delivered late and my feet were so swollen that i couldn't wear shoes from 32 weeks and for three months after. my face swelled at 40 weeks and i had an emergency c section when my blood pressure went up to 165 over 110. had my second baby almost nine weeks ago with a tough pregnancy and hospital admission at 27 weeks, and was on bed rest till i went into labor at 36 weeks.

By anon57409 — On Dec 22, 2009

i am nearly 38 weeks pregnant. i have gestational diabetes and they have just picked up that i have toxemia. they have not told me much about it. i was just wondering if someone could help me out, just so i know what i am in for. this is my 1st child and i'm 19 so i have no idea what to expect.

By anon53781 — On Nov 24, 2009

My mother developed toxemia at seven months in 1986. It was so severe I had to be immediately removed by c-section, and be in an incubator for two months. She and I nearly died.

23 years later we are both happy and healthy, (I am her only child because of this.)

Reading about everyone's situations is very emotional, I am extremely lucky to have come out alive and in perfect heath.

I am extremely grateful!

God bless, Trista

By anon51103 — On Nov 03, 2009

I was 16 during my first pregnancy. I developed toxemia at seven months. The doctor told me to cut down on salt. I was in labor for three days, and my baby was released from the hospital with an ear infection. She had colic for months. I was 18 for the second. Same thing, but easier delivery. I was 19 for the third, another repeat, toxemia, cut salt. Fourth at 21. Toxemia, cut salt. I did not see the same doctors during these pregnancies. But they all fussed at me about gaining so much weight, weight that completely disappeared plus some, by the time I left the hospital each time. At eight months with the fourth, I saw an East Indian woman, a resident at a teaching hospital. She ordered a diet of almost exclusively fresh fruit and vegetables, and gave me a water pill of some sort. I had a difficult delivery, but for the first time I had a baby who gained weight properly (the others had stayed underweight for the first year), and she did not develop behavioral problems later. At age 29 I had twins, and developed toxemia at seven months, as usual. That doctor also said to cut salt and fussed about my weight gain. Fortunately, my twins were born a month early, but my doctor did not know I was having twins until they were born. Now that they range in age from 37 to 50, it's nice to know what was wrong. I think it's sad that it took an East Indian woman doctor to be able to tell the difference between water weight gain and fat weight gain.

By anon43344 — On Aug 27, 2009

i am a 39-year-old pregnant woman. my health insurance has been temporarily stopped so i cannot go to the doctor. my feet, ankles are obviously puffy as are my hands and face. my blood pressure and appetite are normal. how do i know if the swelling is due to toxemia or just pregnancy related?

By anon41539 — On Aug 15, 2009

anon 40438: I do believe the doctors did what they should have during the delivery. I was swollen for about 2 months in which I could not even wear shoes. Once the new doctor entered the practice he chose to induce and delivery. I just thought the first doctor should have done something sooner. I believe the c-section was necessary and for those ladies who are curious about a repeat case of toxemia. I have 3 children and only had toxemia with my first. Thanks for all the advise and help.

By anon40693 — On Aug 10, 2009

I had toxemia with my 1st child she was born @ 27 weeks and I am pregnant with my second child. what are the chances of me getting it again? I was 20 when I had my first and now I am 23.

By anon40458 — On Aug 08, 2009

anon40437: Your doctor probably did the emergency C-section for two reasons: your toxemia and the fact your son's cord was wrapped around his neck. He could have died in your womb had he not been delivered when he was. Your doctor was in no way responsible for your son's cord being wrapped around his neck. Unfortunately, that does happen sometimes. Your doctor actually probably saved your son's life, as well as your life, in acting as he/she did. The toxemia, in all likelihood, did not contribute to your son's issues. It was probably the cord around his neck, restricting his oxygen supply to his brain.

By anon40437 — On Aug 08, 2009

I was diagnosed with toxemia very late in my pregnancy. I was put into the hospital a week before my due date and ended up with an emergency c-section. My son is now 10 years old and has suffered small and large motor skill delays/speech and language delay, he had occupational therapy and currently suffers from severe ADHD and ODD. Could this be a result from the toxemia? delay in diagnosing? and a delay in delivery resulting in a emergency c-section? He was also born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck twice. Could this be the doctor's fault?

By anon40284 — On Aug 07, 2009

I work with a young man whose girlfriend is in her eighth month and has developed toxemia. This will be her fourth child and she has never had this problem. The swelling she is experiencing is so severe that her wrists and legs hurt. She went to her doctor today and he prescribed Darvocet for the pain and that was it.

By anon37360 — On Jul 19, 2009

I was diagnosed with toxemia during both of my pregnancies. I was a 30 year old, middle-income, working, otherwise healthy, married woman. The doctors never discussed any health effects that toxemia may be having on my unborn babies. My sons are now 11 and 13 and have significant learning disabilities. Is there any way that this could have been prevented, and why did my doctor not prepare me for the difficulties that my boys would have in life? Have we done studies on toxemia and the effects that it has on the child?

By anon33630 — On Jun 09, 2009

I had my first child at 15 I am now at the age of 40 having my second. What are my chances of having it again?

By anon14399 — On Jun 16, 2008

my mother had toxemia with me, does that have an effect on me getting pregnant?

By anon3439 — On Aug 29, 2007

I had toxemia with my last pregnancy at age 17. what chances do I have to having it again.

By jc22 — On Apr 27, 2007

if you have a mild case of toxemia what can my pregnant except to face? Also how does this affect the baby? and when she is born will she be okay or have been hurt somehow by this disease?

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