Women who have had a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy frequently experience post-traumatic stress as well as depression and anxiety, which can last for many months, new research has shown.
A UK study of 650 women who had a miscarriage in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or an ectopic pregnancy, found that nearly a third had post traumatic stress in the month after.
In addition, one in four had moderate to severe anxiety and 11% had moderate to severe depression, according to the results of surveys, which incorporated standardised psychological assessments.
Nine months later, one in six women were still showing symptoms of post traumatic stress, showing that miscarriage has a long-lasting impact, the researchers said.
The researchers recommended looking at screening women who lose a baby during pregnancy to find out those who need help the most.
In the study, women who met the criteria for post-traumatic stress reported regularly re-experiencing the feelings associated with the pregnancy loss, and suffering intrusive or unwanted thoughts about their miscarriage. Some also said they had nightmares or flashbacks.
Moderate to severe depression and anxiety were also apparent in some women almost a year later, the study in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed.
While the analysis, which was compared with responses from a control group of women with viable pregnancies, showed that distress does decline over time it remains at ‘clinically important’ levels nine months later.
Given one in four pregnancies ends in early miscarriage, the results highlight a significant public health issue and suggest a need for immediate improvements in the care women receive after an early-stage pregnancy loss, the researchers said.
Study leader Professor Tom Bourne, from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Imperial College London said: ‘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.’
He 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.
‘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.’