Beyoncé recently revealed she had toxemia while pregnant with her twins. Here, everything you need to know about the dangerous condition that led to her emergency C-section.

By Julia Malacoff
August 07, 2018
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Photo: FatCamera/Getty Images

Beyoncé has proven time and again that she can do anything. Slay at the Super Bowl. Give a showstopping performance while pregnant. Be the most Grammy-nominated female musical artist of all time. In general, Beyoncé makes being one of the most amazing humans on earth look easy.

But in her recent Vogue cover story (written by the Bey herself), she opened up about a more difficult moment in her life: the delivery of her twins. She explained that after her first pregnancy, she put a lot of pressure on herself to get back in shape right away. (Remember when the internet couldn't stop analyzing Beyoncé and her post-baby body?)

This time around, things were different, for a pretty significant reason: "I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth to Rumi and Sir," she wrote. "I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies' health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section."

And while she goes on to share more about how she was gentler with herself about getting back to her pre-baby body this time around, she doesn't elaborate on the scary condition that caused her emergency delivery. Here's what you need to know about toxemia, according to health pros.

So, what exactly is preeclampsia (or toxemia)?

Toxemia is another term for preeclampsia. (In fact, toxemia is somewhat of an outdated term for the condition.) "Preeclampsia is a syndrome specific to pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and damage to the organs and tissues in the body," explains Sarah McCormick, D.O., a board-certified ob-gyn at Amita Women's Health First.

Generally, it's diagnosed by taking blood pressure measurements, testing for abnormal kidney and liver functioning, and looking for certain proteins in the pregnant woman's urine.

And while docs don't know what causes preeclampsia, there are some clues. "We know that the placenta implants abnormally into the uterus," says Dr. McCormick. "There also is an immune-related response noted in preeclampsia, where the immune system is activated to attack the placenta and blood vessels." Because of this, it's thought that the cause of preeclampsia probably has something to do with the placenta.

If that all sounds pretty dangerous, well, it is, for both mother and baby. "In the mother, the elevated blood pressure and tissue damage can harm her liver, kidneys, brain, and virtually every system in the body," says Dr. McCormick. "Worst case scenario, the patient can stroke from having elevated blood pressure, which can be deadly or cause permanent disability." Preeclampsia can also lead to eclampsia-seizures that occur during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. (Related: The Seemingly Innocent Signs of a Stroke In Women)

There are also risks to the baby's development, she says, since the attachment to the placenta isn't quite right. "This can impair growth and cause the baby to not get enough oxygen and nutrients to survive or grow properly. The elevated blood pressure can also cause the placenta to bleed and tear away from the uterine wall." This can be deadly for the baby and mother because it can cause them both to lose blood quickly.

Who is at risk for preeclampsia?

Here's the good news: "Preeclampsia affects approximately 3.9 percent of pregnancies," says Dr. McCormick. So not *that* many women experience it. But there are some important risk factors to know about.

"First-time moms are especially at risk, says Kelly L. Strutz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Michigan State University. "It occurs in up to 5 percent of first pregnancies, but only around 2 percent of later pregnancies." Women with a family history of preeclampsia, and those with chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, are also at higher risk, she adds.

Women older than 35 may also be susceptible to preeclampsia, according to Dr. McCormick, as well as women who have already had it in a previous pregnancy. You may remember that Kim Kardashian was warned about the dangers of getting pregnant with baby number three based on her past history of preeclampsia. (Ultimately, she decided to use a surrogate.)

What are the signs of preeclampsia?

Often, there are none. "Most women will not feel different than usual," says Michael Cackovic, M.D., an ob-gyn at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Only severe preeclampsia causes symptoms such as headaches, vision changes, and severe belly pain over the liver, usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting."

Swelling of the limbs and face can also be signs, according to Dr. McCormick. And generally, it presents sometime after the 20-week mark in the pregnancy.

Because preeclampsia isn't always obvious, it's important to get regular checkups throughout pregnancy. (Related: 5 Weird Health Concerns That Can Pop Up During Pregnancy)

How is preeclampsia treated?

"The best treatment for preeclampsia is to induce delivery," says Strutz. If induction doesn't work, an emergency C-section may be necessary. "Separating the mom from both the baby and the placenta usually resolves the condition." And while postpartum preeclampsia is extremely rare, usually moms are monitored afterward just to be sure it's resolved.

Of course, since women can develop the condition around 20 weeks, delivery isn't always possible or desirable, as was the case with Beyoncé, who was put on bed rest. "If the pregnancy isn't far enough along to deliver the baby safely, medications to lower blood pressure or prevent seizures can be given in the meantime," she says.

In the end, it sounds like the experience left her with a relatable, but still Beyoncé-level, perspective: "To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I'm in no rush to get rid of it," she wrote. "I think it's real. Whenever I'm ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be."