toxemia (tŏksēˈmēə) [key], disease state caused by the presence in the blood of bacterial toxins or other harmful substances. The effects of the bacterial toxins known as endotoxins are relatively uniform, regardless of which bacterial species the toxin comes from, and are separate from the effects caused by the infecting bacterium itself. A small amount of endotoxin (released by dead bacteria) produces one or more fever episodes, thought to be caused by release of a fever-inducing substance from damaged white blood cells. Large quantities of endotoxin cause shock and death. Exotoxins are proteins released by bacteria that have specific effects on target tissues, e.g., botulinus toxin affects the nervous system. See also septicemia.
The term toxemia is also used for a disorder occurring during the latter half of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure, the appearance of protein in the urine, and edema. If not treated it can result in convulsions and coma. The cause of toxemia of pregnancy has not been established with certainty. See also eclampsia.