Toxemia vs. Eclampsia vs. HELLP Syndrome

Toxemia, Pre-Eclampsia, Eclampsia, & HELLP Syndrome are all very serious diagnoses that can happen to a woman in pregnancy. In general, these conditions are all varying degrees of the same problem, centered around high blood pressure in pregnancy. While we hope that you’ll never be faced with any of these diagnoses, it is helpful to understand what these conditions are and how they differ.

Toxemia

Toxemia is a condition that can occur both during and after pregnancy. In the most general of terms, Toxemia means pregnancy induced hypertension or high blood pressure.

Occurring in roughly 7% of pregnant women, this condition can vary in severity. The condition can begin as early as when the placenta begins to form, effecting first time mothers more frequently than those who have previously experienced pregnancy.

Symptoms include protein in the urine and bloating in the face, hands, or feet. With proper detection and an increase in rest, this condition can generally be controlled with little risk to the carrier or fetus. However, if left untreated, it can develop into pre-eclampsia.

 

Pre-Eclampsia

This is a condition that exists only during pregnancy and is generally linked to gestational hypertension, protein in the urine, and increased swelling. The only cure is delivery of the fetus.

The severity of the condition can be wide ranging. Treatment will vary based on the gestational age of the fetus and severity of the pre-eclampsia. In some cases, all that may be needed is bed rest and an increase in fluid intake. In other cases, an immediate delivery may be required.

If not treated, pre-eclampsia can lead to eclampsia, renal failure, or death to the carrier. Risks to the fetus included diminished oxygen and food supply from the placenta, often resulting in low birth weight.

While this condition can happen to any pregnant woman, it tends to effect women who are under 20, over 40, have a BMI of 30 or higher, or who are carrying multiples more frequently. This condition is expected to appear in roughly 5-8% of all pregnancies.

 

Eclampsia

Eclampsia has many of the same markers as pre-eclampsia and is generally recognized as the same disorder. However, eclampsia is the more serious of the two conditions. While many of the risks to mother and baby remain the same, eclampsia also carries the risk of seizures. When women are diagnosed with eclampsia, it is best to deliver all babies as soon as possible, regardless of gestational age. Generally the baby will be delivered via Caesarian section once the surrogate’s medical condition has been stabilized.

 

HELLP Syndrome

HELLP syndrome is a life threatening condition believed by many to be a complication of pre-eclampsia/eclampsia. It can pop up before and after childbirth. The condition gets its name from the common indications of its presentation: Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count. While some patients are already being monitored for an eclamptic condition, many others will not appear to be in distress, exhibiting only minor symptoms including increased heartburn, headache, and nausea/vomiting.

HELLP Syndrome is more rare than pre-eclampsia, estimated to occur in less than 1% of pregnancies. However, according to Americanpregnancy.org, 4-12% of women with pre-eclampsia will go on to develop HELLP. Because this syndrome is rare and often mimics pre-eclampsia, it is often misdiagnosed. Blood tests are necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment includes bedrest, blood pressure medication, magnesium medication to prevent seizures, and potential blood transfusions. Following a diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome, a swift delivery is often recommended.

Dr. Kim Bergman

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for Intended Parents, Surrogates and Donors. She is the co-owner of Fertility Counseling Services and Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the upcoming book, Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Conari Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. Her two daughters are in college.