Death At Downton Abbey: Preeclampsia Then And Now
Part of the reason why I love Downton Abbey is that it’s so real. No, of course there was no real-life Lady Mary, and the Dowager Countess never really asked, “What is a weekend?!” But the show is so well researched that I always feel I’m learning a bit of history while I’m getting my juicy TV fix. (Spoiler Alert! I will be divulging a major plot point, though won’t say which charatcer it affects.) This week’s episode was no exception, bringing maternal health into the spotlight when one of the characters died of eclampsia, a very serious complication of pregnancy that results from untreated preeclampsia.
Curious about what treatments were available for women suffering from preeclampsia in the times of Downton Abbey, I did a quick look into what maternal health practices were like back then. Turns out, preeclampsia wasn’t even a named disorder until 1920–the year this season is set in. Now I totally get why the attending doctor’s diagnosis of eclampsia was challenged on this week’s episode. Before 1920, eclampsia deaths were chalked up to “convulsions” and left at that, and even in 1920, since the identification of the disorder was so new, only the top doctors (like the ones the Crawleys have) were fully aware of it.
Luckily for moms-to-be everywhere, we’ve come a long way medically since the times of Downton Abbey. Although preeclampsia still affects five to eight percent of pregnancies according to the Preeclampsia Foundation–and yes, it still can be fatal–doctors know to screen pregnant women’s blood pressure and urine carefully at every office visit for signs of the disorder. Today, mild preeclampsia diagnosed pre-term can sometimes be held at bay through hospitalized bed rest, although many cases necessitate induced delivery to save the mother’s life.
Do you watch Downton Abbey? Were you as shocked by the eclampsia death as I was?
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