‘Downton Abbey’ Death: How Eclampsia Killed Beloved Character

On the Jan. 27 episode of 'Downtown Abbey,' one beautiful new life was created, while another shocking death rocked the entire series. Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway spoke to HollywoodLife.com EXCLUSIVELY to reveal the details behind the illness and why it killed a beloved Crawley family member. Downton Abbey is nothing if not shocking -- and episode four of season three caught everyone off guard when one of the Crawleys suffered a shocking death that no one saw coming.

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Sybil Crawley Death Eclampsia
Image Credit: Courtesy Of PBS/ Carnival Film & Television 2012

On the Jan. 27 episode, sweet Sybil Crawley went into labor, but the joy of having a baby was stifled when Dr. Clarkson pointed out that Sybil suffering from symptoms of preeclampsia — she had swollen ankles and there was excess protein in her urine, but Sir Philip insisted the symptoms were just normal signs of childbirth.

It turns out, her symptoms were something — Sybil was suffering from the dangerous condition called preeclampsia, also known as toxemia. After giving birth, she later suffered from from full-on seizures known as eclampsia — a series of convulsions that occur in pregnant women that aren’t related to any preexisting brain conditions. Sybil died soon after, creating a tragic end to one of Downton’s favorite characters.

Even though Downtown Abbey is set in the 1920s Europe, Linda Burke-Galloway, M.D. and author of The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy: How to Minimize Risks, Avoid Complications, and Have a Healthy Baby, reveals to HollywoodLife.com that preeclampsia and eclampsia are still an incredibly dangerous complications that affects many pregnant women today — and the signs can be inconspicuous.

“Preeclampsia affects about 6-8 percent of the population of pregnant women,” Dr. Burke-Galloway says. “The problem is that some of the symptoms are similar to pregnancy symptoms.”

Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway Explains How Eclampsia Killed Sybil Crawley

On Downtown Abbey, Dr. Clarkson insists that Sybil is suffering from preeclampsia (also called toxemia), and that Sybil needs a C-section as soon as possible to save her life — but Sybil’s father Robert Crawley and Sir Phillip fail to act fast enough, and don’t take her symptoms very seriously.

Dr. Burke-Galloway says that early intervention for preeclampsia is vital, and usually that means delivering the baby right away. “If the delivery is delayed, then certainly that is going to increase the risk of eclamptic seizure,” Dr. Burke-Galloway reveals, but that a healthy C-section can only be performed when the patient is stable.

In Sybil’s case, not having a C-section rendered itself fatal — she later suffered from a seizure and died after welcoming her baby. Dr. Burke-Galloway, who hasn’t seen the episode, says the seizure is most likely a manifestation of a stroke, which is a severe symptom of untreated preeclampsia.

“When you’re bleeding in the brain, other activities are damaged,” she says, including an inability to breathe — which Sybil also suffered from when she was convulsing. Dr. Burke-Galloway says the high blood pressure experienced in preeclampsia could have led to the stroke, which ended up killing Sybil — bleeding in the brain is extremely lethal.

When You Should Seek Help For Preeclampsia

Early intervention is key, which was something Sybil was not able to experience — she didn’t get treatment until it was too late. Dr. Burke-Galloway says if a pregnant woman has a headache, the first thing she needs to do is check her blood pressure. If she’s still unsure, she should seek help immediately and see her physician — or visit labor and delivery at the hospital if necessary. With such a serious medical condition, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Symptoms of preeclampsia can include headaches, high blood pressure, swollen ankles protein in the urine, dizziness, shortness of breath and blurry vision. Sometimes a pain under the right-side rib cage is common, because that’s where the liver is. Treatment includes taking magnesium sulfate, which basically helps prevent seizures, and delivering the baby as soon as possible if the patient is stable.

What do YOU think of Sybil’s death HollyMoms? Is preeclampsia something pregnant women should be worried about?

— Christina Stiehl

More Downtown Abbey news:

  1. ‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Everyone Suffers Sybil’s Labor Pains
  2. ‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Tom & Sybil — International Fugitives?
  3. Matthew Crawley Needs To Save Downton Abbey With His Fortune