More than a year has passed since Beyoncé gave birth to her twins and, during a rare interview, the award-winning singer finally opened up about her experience with preeclampsia, and with how the pregnancy complication led to an emergency C-section.
Beyoncé, in the interview with Vogue, says she was 218 pounds the day she gave birth to twins Rumi and Sir in June 2017. “I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month,” she said. “My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section. We spent many weeks in the NICU.”
While Beyoncé uses the term “toxemia” in the interview, the condition is more commonly referred to as preeclampsia. The rapidly progressing condition is characterized by high blood pressure, with symptoms that include sudden weight gain, headaches, changes in vision and swelling.
Beyoncé, in her interview, went on to say she was in survival mode during her pregnancy and delivery and, today, has a connection to any parent who has been through a similar experience.
Her candid discussion about her own struggle with preeclampsia helps draw attention to the condition that, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation, can affect 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies, and can be life-threatening.
We talked with OB-GYNS and consulted medical professionals to find out more about preeclampsia, including what causes the condition, who is at risk and how it’s treated. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs when a woman who had normal blood pressure before pregnancy begins to experience high blood pressure at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Preeclampsia can include blood pressure at or greater than 140/90 mmHG, with increased swelling and protein in the urine, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The condition is a leading cause of preterm birth, which is defined as occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy. If the condition is severe enough to affect brain function, causing seizures or coma, it’s called eclampsia.
Chronic high blood pressure is a concern during pregnancy because it can restrict blood flow to the placenta, causing a fetus to receive less oxygen and fewer nutrients. Preeclampsia can also increase the risk of placental abruption, which happens when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery, an event that causes heavy bleeding, and which can be life-threatening.
What Causes Preeclampsia?
The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown and is likely caused by multiple factors, explains Tami Prince, M.D., an OB-GYN with her own medical consulting practice, Women’s Health and Wellness Center of Georgia, LLC. Some medical theories point to insufficient blood flow to the uterus, Prince explains, while other potential causes could be related to genetics, damage to blood vessels or the immune system. A common misunderstanding, Prince says, is that it can be prevented through dietary changes or taking supplements.
What Are The Risk Factors For Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is more common in first-time pregnancies, or in particularly young or older pregnant women—women who are under 20 or over 40, explains Samuel Malloy, M.D., the medical director at Dr Felix, an online doctor and pharmacy. Other risk factors include obesity, previous high blood pressure before pregnancy, diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, carrying twins or triplets, having previously experienced preeclampsia or having a mother or sister who has had preeclampsia, Malloy says.
A long gap between pregnancies, in vitro fertilization and other chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or autoimmune disorders like lupus can also be risk factors, Prince says.
What Are The Symptoms?
Preeclampsia presents the following signs and symptoms, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Swelling of face or hands
- A headache that won’t go away
- Seeing spots or changes in eyesight
- Pain in the upper abdomen or shoulder
- Nausea and vomiting in the second half of pregnancy
- Sudden weight gain
- Difficulty breathing
How Is Preeclampsia Treated?
Ultimately, preeclampsia is treated with delivery, explains Kevin Fulford, OB-GYN at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, California. The mode of delivery—vaginal versus cesarean—is based on factors including the severity of preeclampsia and how quickly the mother needs to deliver.
“However, doctors must aggressively treat any hypertension to prevent maternal strokes and must be cautious in the amount of IV fluids used in order to prevent fluid overload and pulmonary edema,” Fulford says. (Pulmonary edema is a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid.)
Women who are high-risk for developing preeclampsia may be placed on aspirin during the pregnancy by their OB-GYN, Prince explains.
“This does not mean, however, that every pregnant woman should take aspirin,” she says. “This decision should be made with the OB-GYN who is managing the pregnancy.”
If a woman has preeclampsia, magnesium sulfate will be given during labor to decrease the risk for seizures, though magnesium sulfate is not actually treating preeclampsia itself, Prince says.
A final note about preeclampsia: Worldwide, about 76,000 women die from preeclampsia and other related hypertensive disorders every year, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. The number of babies who die is as high as 500,000 per year, according to the foundation. Women in developing countries are at higher risk of developing and dying from preeclampsia.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above during your pregnancy, call your doctor immediately!