Search form

Donate Today

Once the Seizures Have Started…

What is toxemia or eclampsia? Could what happened in Downton Abbey be realistic? What about today? Tara Austen Weaver has researched and reports.

Lady Sybil Patricia Branson (née Crawley): 1896-1920

With the loss of Lady Sybil, a pall has fallen over Downton. I don’t know about you, but for a moment I considered going into mourning myself. Not Sybil—noooooo! She’s the only truly good one of them. As Mrs. Hughes rightly says, “The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone.”

And what of this eclampsia? What? How? Why?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to blame. Characterized by high blood pressure, additional protein in the urine, and seizures, eclampsia does not have clear causes. These days most women are screened for symptoms (preeclampsia), which occur in only 5-7% of pregnancies; only 1% of these go on to develop the full potentially fatal condition. Still, even now, answers are rare.

To quote a current medical website:

There is nothing that any woman can do to prevent preeclampsia or eclampsia from occurring. Therefore, it is both unhealthy and not helpful to assign blame and to review and rehash events that occurred either just prior to pregnancy or during early pregnancy that may have contributed to the development of preeclampsia.

As Sir Phillip says, “The human life is unpredictable.”

Damn you, Sir Phillip. Damn you and your snooty ways. We want Sybil back!

PBS has provided the following contact information for those seeking more information about eclampsia, pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, which are truly life-threatening conditions that are still major threats to maternal and infant health today:

Toll Free: 800-665-9341

Phone: 321-421-6957


There are 9 comments

Read Comments Hide Comments

Ir seems to me that Julien Fellows has raised an important issue for all pregnant and to be pregnant women. It shows why we need to have all women have good health care right up to becoming pregnant and while being pregnant. Tonight's episode also showed the Class issue where Lord Grantham was so sure that the "snooty" Sir Phillip's professional opinion was to be followed when he was way out of his league and the local doctor providing the correct information, but as he had said an hour before her death, "We need to do something NOW!" Unfortunately, Tom was not consulted and by the time that he was, it was too late and his decision-powers were compromised by all the feelings that were swirling around all of us, the family as well as the viewers.

I had thought that William was a huge loss, and loosing Sybil is just unthinkable. I sure did not see it coming.

So very sad to lose Sybil. She provided such a balancing personality for Mary and Edith (and even Cora). And when someone (upstairs or downstairs) manages to get through to Thomas' heart, you know she's gold. She will be missed.

We'll have to soldier on....or maybe they can come up with a long-lost cousin just like her to take in...

Right after the show my husband and I went online to look up eclampsia and one of the top search phrases on Google was "eclampsia" and "eclampsia Downton Abbey." Thought you'd like to know, kcts!

My other had preeclampsia in the early 50, seizure, comma, all of the above.
Came out fine, went on to have two more healty babies

I had preeclampsia with the birth of my first child in 1983. I was put on bedrest, and when my BP did not go down, was hospitalized for the last month. The baby and I were closely monitored, any potentially disturbing phone calls screened, and I was finally induced close to the due date. Immediately afterward, both the baby and I were given clean bills of health. I did not truly realize the seriousness of it all until a month later I read about a woman who died in childbirth at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds -- of eclampsia.

@ T A Weaver - why damn Sir Phillip. Robert didn't have to listen to him. He could have listened to the family doctor, as Cora urged him to. But Robert is so, so status conscious, he had to listen to the society doctor. He didn't want to hurt his feelings, he said. No worry about hurting the feelings of the doctor who has attended the family for years. Or thinking Sybil's husband needed to be consulted for his opinion. What a twit Robert is!

I don't disagree with you--but in Robert's defense, Clarkson has been wrong about nearly every medical case featured. Do you remember how he and Isobel tussled over the farmer, John Drake, in season one? And then his wrong diagnosis of Matthew, and Lavinia? There are issues of class and Robert's blindness, but he went with the doctor who said everything was going to be okay. I think he wanted to believe that.

We forget that less than 100 years ago, people died younger for all sorts of reasons...lack of medical knowledge and/ or intervention being just some of them. The series is a harsh reminder of how far modern medicine and technology have come in a relatively short time. The past may appear romantic, but it was also very dangerous.

I had Toxaemia and eclampsia with my first pregnancy, my blood pressure was 210/190, I was only eight months along and had to have an emergency C-section. That in 1983, my daughter is 29 years old now. My fathers mother died in 1921 for the very same reason. When I was watching Sybil dying on Downton Abbey, realised that could have been me and that was my fathers mother. We have to count our blessings that we live in age of modern medicine. Also,the research and writing on Downton Abbey is remarkably accurate, I hope that this show continues for many seasons to come.

This episode struck me on what could have happened without medical intervention since I had severe preclampsia in 2011 with my youngest. It started with high blood pressure at 37 weeks, bed rest, induced birth at 39 weeks, and then sent home day after birth even though I thought I had edema. At home I didn't feel right and even though nurses on phone thought my symptoms were typical, I went back to hospital. I was diagnosed with postpartum severe preclampsia which is rare and stayed in hospital for another 5 days. My 2 day old baby also didn't seem right, even though doctor on phone thought it was normal, so my husband took him to Children's Hospital at the same time and he stayed the weekend due to severe dehydration related to my preclampsia. So even in modern times I had to insist on medical treatment for myself and newborn since the doctors and nurses missed the warning signs of preclampsia and dehydration. I thank God that I was assertive since I could have ended up how Sybil was depicted on Downton Abbey and who knows what could have happened to my poor baby. It's been 2 years and we're both fine.