Post-traumatic stress common in early pregnancy loss

ONE in six women experience long-term post-traumatic stress following miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

This is the key finding of a study into the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium.

The study, which assessed over 650 women who had experienced an early pregnancy loss or an ectopic pregnancy, found that 29 per cent suffered post-traumatic stress, 24 per cent experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and 11 per cent had moderate to severe depression one month following pregnancy loss.

Follow-up nine months later found that 18 per cent of women had post-traumatic stress, 17 per cent moderate to severe anxiety, and 6 per cent had moderate to severe depression.

One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage – most often before or around 12 weeks. Estimates suggest that in the UK there are 250,000 miscarriages every year and around 11,000 emergency admissions for ectopic pregnancies.

Dr Jessica Farren, Imperial researcher and obstetrician and gynaecologist, commented: "Post-traumatic stress can have a toxic effect on all elements of a person’s life – affecting work, home and relationships.

"We have made significant progress in recent years in breaking the silence around mental health issues in pregnancy and postnatally, but early pregnancy losses are still shrouded in secrecy, with very little acknowledgement of how distressing and profound an event they are. Many women don’t tell colleagues, friends or family they are pregnant before the 12-week scan, leaving them feeling unable to discuss their emotions if they suffer a pregnancy loss. We also know partners can suffer psychological distress following miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, and are investigating this in ongoing research."

Professor Tom Bourne, lead author of the research from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Imperial College London, said: "The treatment women receive following early pregnancy loss must change to reflect its psychological impact, and recent efforts to encourage people to talk more openly about this very common issue are a step in the right direction.

"Whilst general support and counselling will help many women, those with significant post-traumatic stress symptoms require specific treatment if they are going to recover fully. This is not widely available, and we need to consider screening women following an early pregnancy loss so we can identify those who most need help."

Link in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology