Millions of Downton Abbey fans were shocked this past Sunday night when one of the show’s most beloved characters, Lady Sybil Branson, died from eclampsia after giving birth to her daughter. The harrowing scene in which Lady Sybil suffers a fit of seizures before suddenly passing away at age 24 was both heart-wrenching and devastating. Lady Sybil was under the care of two physicians throughout her labor and delivery. The village doctor, Dr. Clarkson, who had known her since she was a child, noticed there was much cause for concern over her telltale symptoms of confusion, headache and swelling, and he recommended she be sent to the hospital for an immediate C-section, which was the only possible cure at that time (the period drama is set in the year 1920). The other presiding doctor, Sir Philip, dismissed and overruled Dr. Clarkson’s diagnosis, and instead dispensed the fatal opinion that Sybil would be absolutely fine in spite of any distressing signs to the contrary. A reminder to women everywhere to be their own advocate or have someone who can advocate on their behalf if their doctor is not taking their symptoms seriously.
Downton Abbey has taken the world by storm and viewers are hopelessly hooked on the compelling storylines and impossible to resist cast of characters who fuel the superbly written and acted drama. Sybil’s death has left people feeling “shattered,” and the opportunity to educate women on the topic of preeclampsia and eclampsia since it has been brought to the spotlight in this realm, should not be dismissed. Today, women in developed countries with access to health care can be properly diagnosed and treated for preeclampsia. However, Every Mother Counts responded to Sybil’s death with the reminder, “…let’s be grateful we live in a time when we have solid medical treatments that can prevent most women from (preeclampsia). And let’s bear in mind that the whole reason why Every Mother Counts exists is because women in many parts of the world still live without even basic access to medical care. It’s up to all of us to find solutions so that every mother survives childbirth. It’s the 21st Century. Mothers shouldn’t die anymore.”
Read on to learn more about preeclampsia, the symptoms of preeclampsia as well as factors that increase your risk for preeclampsia.
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What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition that affects just 5%-8% off all pregnancies, so the odds of you having problems with preeclampsia are rare. However, thousands of women and babies will die or get very sick each year due to complications caused by preeclampsia — and globally, preeclampsia and other related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. Preeclampsia and related disorders such as HELLP syndrome and eclampsia are usually characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, and the condition comes on very quickly in most cases. This condition can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and/or baby. Typically women will only experience preeclampsia after 20 weeks gestation (in the late 2nd or 3rd trimesters or middle to late pregnancy) and up to six weeks postpartum. In very rare cases, some women may get preeclampsia before the 20 week mark. Note that preeclampsia is sometimes referred to as toxemia or Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH), but both of these terms are outdated and not used by medical professionals anymore. (You may see these terms in older pregnancy books).