New study suggests women who miscarry could be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder

There are similar findings for ectopic pregnancy, too

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Anyone who’s gone through the trauma of of losing a baby – through miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy – will know the huge pain and grief such an experience causes. 

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But the author of a study carried out by Imperial College London and newly published in the British Medical Journal Open has confirmed she was “surprised” at just how many women experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after early pregnancy loss.

Dr Jessica Farren was speaking about research carried out on 113 women which involved carrying out questionnaires about their thoughts and feelings after having a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

All the women had attended the same London hospital’s Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit and most had miscarried before 3 months.

Nearly 38% of the women who had miscarried and 18% of the women who had ectopic pregnancies – questioned 3 months after their loss – had symptoms of PTSD.

They reported having nightmares, flashbacks, and avoiding anything that might remind them of their loss or pregnant friends or relatives.

What is PTSD?

PTSD occurs after an individual has experienced a stressful and frightening event and can lead to problems around sleep, intrusive thoughts and unwanted images.

Speaking about the disorder in relation to the study’s findings for the Imperial College London website, Dr Farren said:

“We were surprised at the high number of women who experienced symptoms of PTSD after early pregnancy loss…

“The symptoms that may be triggered can have a profound effect on all aspects of a woman’s everyday life, from her work to her relationships with friends and family.”

Kept secret

Dr Farren goes on to suggest that the fact people often don’t share their pregnancy with others for 12 weeks could compound the issues around loss.

“There is an assumption in our society that you don’t tell anyone you are pregnant until after 12 weeks. But this also means that if couples experience a miscarriage in this time, they don’t tell people,” she said.

“This may result in the profound psychological effects of early pregnancy loss being brushed under the carpet, and not openly discussed.” 

What next?

The results have led to calls for much more help to be given to women struggling to cope after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

“At the moment there is no routine follow-up appointment for women who have suffered a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy,” says Dr Farren.

“We have checks in place for postnatal depression, but we don’t have anything in place for the trauma and depression following pregnancy loss.

Jane Brewin, Chief Execuitve of pregnancy charity Tommy’s, agrees: “Following this study there must now be added impetus to change miscarriage treatment and care.

“Many women need more support following a miscarriage and the NHS needs to rethink how women are treated throughout the experience so they do not suffer from PTSD and other psychological impacts.”

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