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 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 seven percent of pregnant women, this condition can vary in severity. The condition can begin as early as when the placenta begins to form, effecting people who are pregnant for the first time 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.


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 twenty, over forty, have a body mass index (BMI) of thirty or higher, or who are carrying multiples more frequently. This condition is expected to appear in roughly five to eight percent of all pregnancies.


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 person who is pregnant and baby remain the same, eclampsia also carries the risk of seizures. When someone is 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 cesarean 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 one percent of pregnancies. However, according to, four to twelve percent 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.

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