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Toxemia, an illness associated with pregnancy, can be life-threatening. When it's severe and early, it could lead to giving birth too soon for the baby's survival.

"The cause of toxemia is unknown. The treatment is delivery of the fetus," said Dr. Richard Taylor, an obstetrician from Alta View Hospital, Sandy.However, toxemia is usually mild and can be controlled, he added.

Taylor and two other obstetricians - Dr. James Nelson of Mt. Timpanogos Women's Health Care Corp., who is affiliated with American Fork Hospital, and Dr. Mark D. Heiner of the Logan Women's Clinic, affiliated with Logan Regional Hospital - will answer questions from the public about pregnancy issues Saturday.

They will field calls during the monthly Deseret News/Inter-moun-tain Health Care Hotline.

According to Taylor, toxemia can strike up to 15 percent of pregnant women. In the Salt Lake area, he estimates its incidence at 10 to 15 percent.

The disease is marked by an increase in blood pressure and other symptoms. It is most common in first pregnancies and more likely to occur in teen mothers and women who become first-time moms at age 35 or older.

"It can be from mild to severe. In most cases it's mild, and we can control it with bed rest," said Taylor, who is chief of laser surgery at Alta View Hospital.

"If it is severe, then it has the potential to be life-threatening, both to the mother and the baby. That's why they need to have very good prenatal care and be watched very carefully and have a doctor who is competent and well-educated on the subject."

Most board-certified obstetricians are experienced in treating toxemia, he said.

The key to dealing with the disease is to recognize it early. Often its first manifestation is a rise in blood pressure, and physicians can watch for that by making baseline readings of their patients' blood pressure soon after they become pregnant.

Many women's blood pressure rises during the last trimester of pregnancy, he added. Toxemia also may include swelling in tissues of the extremities, protein in the urine and a rapid gain in weight or body fluid.

Toxemia may not signal an impending disaster.

"We have them stop work, we put them in bed rest, on their side. If they're resting on their side, it will increase the blood flow to the baby."

Lying on her side also reduces the burden on the woman's blood vessels, so the blood pressure drops. The woman may be required to stay in bed 24 hours a day.

"We also do some special monitoring of the baby once or twice a week." This includes checking the baby's heartbeat.

With mild toxemia, taking proper precautions means that often the baby can be carried to term. But if the condition worsens dramatically, doctors may be forced to take the child early.

Symptoms of worsening include "recurrent headaches, nausea and vomiting, blurry vision, rapid profound weight gain - just becoming very, very swollen very rapidly, and also pain in their liver area, in their right upper abdomen. All those signs are serious, and if they are developing those, then they need to be come immediately to the hospital or the office to have their blood pressure checked."

Toxemia can cause many body organs to fail. The woman can experience headaches, blurry vision, seizures, liver failure and even the shutting down of the kidneys.

One diagnostic tool is whether the woman feels that something is wrong. "I rely on that, rely on their intuition that they just don't feel right," he said.

One home test that a woman can take - usually in the third trimester - is to make a "kick count." After eating a meal, she should wait for half an hour or so to give the food time to translate into blood sugar - which makes the baby more energetic.

The woman should lie down and count each of the baby's moves for an hour. There could be from 10 to 50 per hour.


Additional Information

Obstetricians answer queries today on hotline

Attention, parents-to-be: Here's your chance to get answers to all those nagging questions.

Three expert obstetricians will respond to call-in queries from throughout the region today during the Deseret News/Intermountain Health Care Hotline from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The topic is pregnancy. The experts are Dr. Mark D. Heiner of Logan Regional Hospital, Dr. James Nelson of American Fork Hospital and Dr. Richard Taylor of Alta View Hospital

Anyone with a question about pregnancy, childbirth or a related subject is invited to call the hotline. The toll-free telephone number, which can be reached from throughout the region, is 1-800-925-8177.