TV Show Highlights Pregnancy Condition

We won’t give away any spoilers, but a recent episode of the popular PBS series Downtown Abbey has brought attention to the pregnancy complication called preeclampsia.

Pregnant woman and her blood pressure

The British historical drama Downtown Abbey airs on PBS in the US and has a huge Anglophile following -- but the series mingled with pregnancy complications in the third season and now preeclampsia finds itself in the spotlight.


Preeclampsia is a disease exclusive to pregnant women. It can begin any time after 20 weeks, although it normally doesn’t rear its ugly head until 32 weeks or later. It is characterized by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine. If left untreated, it can lead to eclampsia, which can bring life-threatening seizures.

With routine prenatal care, moms have their blood pressure monitored and their urine tested on a regular basis, so any developing preeclampsia can be identified early and dealt with, although there is no cure besides delivery of the baby -- and even then, symptoms or issues can linger for up to six weeks. Of course, delivery is riskier the earlier in pregnancy you are, but sometimes doctors can eke out a few more weeks under tight supervision.

Signs and symptoms

When an expecting mother has two blood pressure readings at least six hours apart of 140/90 or higher, and 300 mg of protein in a 24-hour urine sample, she is considered to have preeclampsia. Another symptom is edema (swelling), particularly of the face and hands.

Many cases, however, are asymptomatic, which means that Mom doesn’t have any inkling that she is getting ill. This is why routine prenatal care is so important.

Statement from the Preeclampsia Foundation

The interest from the TV show prompted the Preeclampsia Foundation to release a statement about the disease and how realistic its portrayal was in the episode. Don’t click if you don’t want spoilers, but here is the statement.

Eleni Tsigas, Executive Director of the Preeclampsia Foundation, said, ““Women need to be aware of the symptoms, to keep their prenatal appointments, and report between visits if they don’t feel well. Sometimes they have to be persistent in getting medical attention. At our website, women will find many resources to become informed and find support. It’s our mission to save lives.”

More on preeclampsia

How is preeclampsia treated?
Risks of preeclampsia
A diet supplement may help prevent preeclampsia

Tags: preeclampsia

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