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New research finds that miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy may trigger long-term post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression

15th January 2020

Results from the largest ever study into the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss have been published today, in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology*.

Summary

The research involved over 650 women – 537 had experienced a miscarriage before 12 weeks of pregnancy and 116 had experienced an ectopic pregnancy. The study revealed that one month following pregnancy loss, nearly a third of women (29 per cent) suffered post-traumatic stress while one in four (24 per cent) experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and one in ten (11 per cent) had moderate to severe depression. Nine months later, 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.**

The team behind the research call for immediate improvements in the care women receive following an early-stage pregnancy loss.  They will also now focus on identifying which women are at risk of developing psychological symptoms after pregnancy loss, the impact of early pregnancy loss on partners and the best type of treatments and how to deliver these.

Further details from Imperial College London about the research and its findings can be found here

Our response

A clear call for our NHS to ensure better access to psychological services

Our National Director, Ruth Bender Atik, said: “This is such an important piece of research, providing a sound evidence base for what we hear time and again from those whose pregnancies end in miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

“We know from our work that miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy can be deeply distressing: the shock of diagnosis, the physical experience of pain and bleeding, and the feelings of sadness, grief and loss for the baby that should have been.  Difficult and distressing as they are, those feelings generally ease over time.

“What this research shows clearly is that for some people – perhaps more than we recognise – miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy can seriously impact their mental health.  It confirms our own research in this area.  It highlights the need for good supportive care for anyone facing pregnancy loss.  But most importantly, it is a clear call for our NHS to ensure better access to psychological services for those who need additional mental health care and support.”

Media volunteer Amy says:

“This research is very interesting. I suffered a miscarriage at 10 weeks of pregnancy. I received medical attention at the time, however no support was provided for my mental health.

“In the weeks and months that followed I hit a very dark time. I suffered with depression and crippling anxiety – I struggled to leave my house and had to take 6 weeks off of work. My relationship with my husband suffered as I closed myself off and didn’t know how to process my grief. It was the hardest time of my life.

I suffered with depression and crippling anxiety.

“As miscarriage and early pregnancy loss is not a conversation often spoken about in society, it was a very sad and isolating time. I found comfort and support by starting a blog writing about my experiences, and connecting with other women who were going through/had experienced the same thing.

“I went on to have a healthy pregnancy following my miscarriage. I struggled with my anxiety and mental health during the first trimester, and again there was no support available during this time to help me deal with my feelings. The fear of having another miscarriage was all encompassing, and I was scared every time I went to the toilet.

“In the future I would love to see emotional and mental support for women going through miscarriage. It is the most traumatic and lonely thing I have ever experienced, and nobody should have to feel that way – especially when it is so common place and sadly affects so many people.”

Media volunteer Sally comments:

I know how isolating it can feel.

“This research is a great first step in getting the mental health impacts of early pregnancy loss recognised. Having been through it myself, including high anxiety I know how isolating it can feel. Hopefully, with this research, the aftercare for women experiencing early pregnancy loss will only get better”.

You can read Sally’s story here.

 

We provide support and information on your mental health and looking after your mental health during and after pregnancy loss, as well as a leaflet and a selection of personal stories.

 

* ‘Post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression following miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy: a multi-center, prospective, cohort study’ by J. Farren et al is published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

** The authors caution the study used a questionnaire for screening for post-traumatic stress, but formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder would require a clinical interview. The team also explain that women who were already experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression may have been more likely to respond to the questionnaire.

 

 

 

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