Miscarriages are incredibly common and can be deeply upsetting for everyone involved – but a new study has found that it can even trigger PTSD. In fact, around 18% of women experience post-traumatic stress after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, according to the new research.
In the study – that looked at the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss – researchers evaluated 653 women who had been through this kind of loss. Most of the women had suffered an early miscarriage – defined as a pregnancy loss before 12 weeks, or an ectopic pregnancy.
The study, published in the journal American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that 29% suffered post-traumatic stress one month after the loss. Almost a quarter (24%) experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and one in nine (11%) had moderate to severe depression.
After nine months, 18% of women had post-traumatic stress, 17% had moderate to severe anxiety, and 6% had moderate to severe depression. The women in the study were asked to complete questionnaires about their emotions and behaviour one month after pregnancy loss, then again three and nine months later.
Their responses were then compared to 171 women who had healthy pregnancies. The results showed that the psychological symptoms of women with healthy pregnancies were significantly lower than in women who had suffered early pregnancy loss. Those with post-traumatic stress said they regularly re-experienced the feelings associated with the pregnancy loss, and intrusive or unwanted thoughts about their miscarriage. Some also reported nightmares and flashbacks.
‘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,’ says Professor Tom Bourne, lead author of the research.
‘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.’
Scientists at Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium say it is the largest ever study to look at the psychological impact. Pregnancy loss will effect one in two women, and one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Estimates suggest there are 250,000 miscarriages every year in the UK, and around 11,000 emergency admissions for ectopic pregnancies – which always result in pregnancy loss.
The authors do warn that formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would require a clinical interview, rather than just a questionnaire. They add that women who were already experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression may have been more likely to respond to the questionnaire.