Toxemia

The medical complication specific for pregnancy has been termed toxemia (Greek: ‘poison’ + ‘blood’) of pregnancy. The term implies that some substance poisonous to the mother, acquired from the fetus or placenta, is absorbed in her blood and causes the condition. This may be true, but to date no one has discovered such a toxin.

Toxemia rarely occurs until the last trimester of pregnancy, usually its last few weeks. The first sign of a developing toxemia is usually rapid, excessive weight gain. The next is an abnormal increase in blood pressure. Then albumin appears in the urine, followed by severe headache, upper abdominal pain, blurred vision, etc. Treatment, usually in the hospital, is likely to arrest the process at any phase, not permitting the next step to appear. Termination of pregnancy by the induction of labor or Cesarean section ordinarily effects a prompt cure.

As in many medical conditions, the best treatment for toxemia of pregnancy is prevention. This is almost always possible if the patient understands the importance of prenatal care and keeps each office appointment with meticulous exactitude, carrying out her doctor’s orders to the letter, particularly when he advises the elimination of salt. Recently we at Mount Sinai had a mother carrying twins who was very ill with toxemia because she was eighteen days overdue in keeping her clinic appointment. If she had come to the prenatal clinic the day her appointment card specified, the whole illness probably could have been nipped in the bud.