What Is Toxemia, The Pregnancy Condition That Put Beyoncé On Bed Rest?

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images..
In case you missed it, Beyoncé is on the cover of Vogue's September issue. In the story, she opened up about her birth experience, most notably that she had to have an emergency C-section because "my health and my babies’ health were in danger," she says.
Beyoncé says she was "swollen from toxemia" and was on bed rest for months before her C-section. But, if you've never heard of toxemia, that's probably because it's another term that people use for preeclampsia, a blood pressure disorder that happens in pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG). In the past, it was believed that preeclampsia was caused by a "toxin" in the blood, but doctors now know this is not the case, although some people still call it toxemia.
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Unfortunately, experts don't know exactly what causes preeclampsia, although women with a history of hypertension and metabolic diseases seem to be at risk. Additionally, Black women are disproportionately affected by preeclampsia and the rate of preeclampsia and eclampsia (the onset of seizures caused by preeclampsia) for Black women is 60% higher than it is for white women, according to a 2017 survey. Across the board, preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death, and it occurs in 5-8% of pregnancies in the United States. (Kim Kardashian West also had preeclampsia when she was pregnant with Saint. And in the fictional show Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil died from preeclampsia while giving birth.)
So, how do pregnant people know that they have preeclampsia? Usually, it's diagnosed when a pregnant person has high blood pressure and at least one other sign that "their organ systems are not working correctly," like the liver or kidneys, according to the ACOG. In addition, it's normal for people with preeclampsia to experience sudden weight gain and swelling in the hands and face, as Beyoncé suggested, as well as headaches, changes in vision, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and increased urination, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Preeclampsia is typically detected during a routine blood pressure or urine check, according to the National Institute of Health. If a pregnant person has a blood pressure reading above 140/90 mm Hg more than once, or a blood pressure reading that is excessively higher than normal, that's typically an indication that someone has preeclampsia.
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Often it's recommended that people take time off of work and go on bed rest in order to manage their blood pressure and keep the baby in-utero as long as possible, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. Preeclampsia can be very severe, and can lead to complications if left untreated, like seizures, placental abruption, and stroke, so sometimes people are given medication to lower their blood pressure or prevent seizures. If a pregnant person with preeclampsia is at "term," meaning they're at 37 weeks of pregnancy, doctors will induce labor or have an emergency C-section to deliver the baby. This is because delivery is the only cure for preeclampsia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Of course, if a baby is delivered premature, there can be several health risks associated, so it's common for babies to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after delivery, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. Sadly, approximately 10,500 babies die from preeclampsia each year in the United States, although the number is much higher in countries that lack medical resources required to keep a baby alive, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation.
In the Vogue story, Beyoncé says she spent weeks in the NICU with her husband and kids. She also wrote that she had a newfound connection to any parent who has been through what she experienced. For many people, getting a preeclampsia diagnosis can be a very traumatic experience. Additionally, stress caused by a traumatic pregnancy and delivery can often add to psychiatric complications like post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression, and make it more difficult to cope, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. Hopefully, the fact that Beyoncé shared her story will help many people and fans who are affected by preeclampsia in some capacity.
If you are experiencing postpartum depression, please call the Postpartum Support Helpline.
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