Early-stage pregnancy loss can have a serious impact on women’s mental health, research shows.
The study, from scientists at Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium, found one in six women experience long-term post-traumatic stress following miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
One month following pregnancy loss, nearly a third of women suffered post-traumatic stress while one in four experienced moderate to severe anxiety.
Professor Tom Bourne, lead author of the research from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Imperial College London, said pregnancy loss affects up to one in four women, and for many 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,” he said.
He added that while 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.
Estimates suggest there are 250,000 miscarriages every year in the UK, and around 11,000 emergency admissions for ectopic pregnancies.
Ectopic pregnancies always result in pregnancy loss, as an embryo grows in an area outside of the womb and is unable to develop.
The women in the study 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 women also reported having nightmares or flashbacks, while others avoided anything that might remind them of their loss.
Dr Jessica Farren, author of the research from Imperial College and obstetrician and gynaecologist, warned that the effects of post-traumatic stress can have a toxic effect on all elements of a person’s life – affecting work, home and relationships.
“We have made significant progress in recent years in breaking the silence around mental health issues in pregnancy and postnatally, but early pregnancy losses are still shrouded in secrecy, with very little acknowledgement of how distressing and profound an event they are,” she said.
The research was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.