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One in six women who lose a baby during pregnancy experiences long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research.
The results were found as a result of a study conducted by scientists at Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium. They examined the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss on over 650 women.
This research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. It found that one month after pregnancy loss, 29 per cent suffered from symptoms of PTSD. 24 per cent experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and one in nine had moderate to severe depression following the loss of a baby. After nine months, 18 per cent of women had PTSD and 17 per cent had moderate to severe anxiety. Six per cent showed signs of moderate to severe depression.
Following these findings, the team is calling for immediate improvements in the care women receive after an early-stage pregnancy loss, to help manage these symptoms and encourage women to talk about their experiences.
Professor Tom Bourne, lead author, said, “Pregnancy loss affects up to one in two women, and for many women it will be the most traumatic event in their life. This research suggests the loss of a longed-for child can leave a lasting legacy and result in a woman still suffering post-traumatic stress nearly a year after her pregnancy loss.”
Tom added, “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.”
Participants of the study attended Early Pregnancy Assessment Units at three London hospitals, and were asked to complete questionnaires about their emotions and behaviour one month after pregnancy loss.
They were then asked to complete questionnaires again three months and nine months later, to see what had changed or stayed the same. Participants meeting the criteria for PTSD said that they regularly re-experienced feeling associated with the pregnancy loss, as well as intrusive thoughts about their miscarriage. Some said they’d had nightmares and flashbacks too.
Dr Jessica Farren, first author of the research and obstetrician and gynaecologist, said, “Post-traumatic stress can have a toxic effect on all elements of a person’s life – affecting work, home and relationships.”
Common symptoms associated with a miscarriage are bleeding, vaginal discharge of fluid, pain and a loss of pregnancy symptoms. Meanwhile, symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include bleeding from the vagina which is dark and watery, pain on one side or spreading across the abdomen, dizziness and fainting, and diarrhoea and pain when going to the toilet.
Women who experience these symptoms are urged to visit their GP or nearest A&E department as soon as possible.