Eclampsia is a complication of pregnancy with symptoms including seizures and coma during pregnancy. When left untreated, the disease can be fatal for the mother. Eclampsia is so named because it is usually preceded by preeclampsia, although often this too can be a silent disease. Preeclampsia typically appears after the 20th week of pregnancy and typical signs include a large rise in blood pressure and failing kidneys, swelling or edema in the limbs, sudden weight gain over one or two days, consistent headaches, abdominal pain, nausea and vision change. While preeclampsia can only be cured by giving birth, victims of eclampsia often don’t realize they are suffering from the disease, miss the signs, and about 80% die postpartum. Risks of eclampsia and leading causes of death by it are seizures, stroke and heart failure.
[Spoiler Alert!] Eclampsia was brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention after the latest Downtown Abbey episode killed off one of its main characters, Lady Sybil, who died of the disease shortly after giving birth. In the show, Sybil’s symptoms are dismissed casually by her father, providing fatal to his daughter who died shortly after welcoming her new baby.
Eclampsia continues to cause alarm for expectant mothers today, and affects between six and eight percent of all pregnant women. Complications in diagnosing the illness arise because the symptoms of the disease are so similar to those of pregnancy itself. Make sure you are compliant when doctors consistently want to measure your blood pressure and keep track of your symptoms—if headaches are suddenly stronger or are plaguing you more than usual, or your feet are swollen, don't be shy. It is worth it to mention your concerns so that both you and your doctor can be aware of possible risks during delivery. Just because Downtown Abbey is a period piece, doesn’t make it an irrelevant learning lesson.