Study: Giving birth may increase risk of PTSD

Of the women surveyed following childbirth, study finds that 3.4% suffered from complete PTSD.

Mother and Baby (photo credit: REUTERS/Erik de Castro)
Mother and Baby
(photo credit: REUTERS/Erik de Castro)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety disorder, is usually connected to road accidents, terror attacks and other emotionally shocking events in a person’s life that overwhelm the person and his or her ability to cope. Symptoms for PTSD include reexperiencing the original trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, lack of interest in what the victim previously enjoyed and difficulty sleeping, among others that cause serious functional impairment.
Could it be that giving birth – a natural and normal process – could cause PTSD? Doctors at the Beer Ya’acov Mental Health Center and Sheba Medical Center’s obstetrics department studied this question by examining 89 women who had just given birth and following them up a month later. The results of the study were published recently in the Israel Medical Association Journal (IMAJ).
The women were examined and questioned about childbirth expectations and delivery, personality, demographic variables and other factors.
When assessed for PTSD, 3.4% of the women were found to suffer from the complete form, 7.9% from the nearly complete form and 25.8% from significant partial PTSD. Prof. Rael Strous, Dr. Inbal Shlomi Polachek and colleagues wrote that women who developed PTSD symptoms had higher prevalence of trauma in previous births, followed by subsequent depression and anxiety. They also suffered more medical complications and “mental crises” during pregnancy and had anticipated more pain and fear while giving birth. Giving birth by cesarean section was not linked to PTSD, but most of the women with the symptoms who had regular vaginal births reported getting fewer painkillers, had stronger feelings of danger, were uncomfortable about being undressed or had higher rates of not wanting to have more children.
The team recommended that before women give birth, obstetric department staffers should ask them about their previous pregnancies and birthing experiences and to identify at-risk populations.
The authors concluded that doctors and midwives should be more aware of the possibility of PTSD, which can be treated – and the sooner the better – among mothers giving birth. Their dignity, including modesty, should be respected and preserved. Presenting the woman with a short questionnaire after delivery could make it possible to identify PTSD rapidly for the benefit of the patient, they concluded.
Hope for Huntington's?
Huntington’s disease is considered by many neurologists to be one of the most horrible disorders a person can have. Symptoms of the genetic disease, which the children of carriers have a 50-percent chance of contracting, include uncontrolled movements, premature dementia, difficulty swallowing, speech impairment and anxiety. It is caused by a genetic defect on chromosome four, where a genetic sequence that is normally repeated 10 to 28 times is instead repeated 36 to 120 times. The more repeats of the DNA sequence, the earlier the symptoms appear.
There may, however, be a glimmer of hope for those suffering from this incurable disease.
With a single drug treatment, researchers at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California at San Diego can silence the mutated gene responsible for Huntington’s disease, slowing and partially reversing progression of the fatal neurodegenerative disorder in animal models. The findings were published recently in the journal Neuron.
Researchers suggest the drug therapy, tested in mouse and non-human primate models, could produce sustained motor and neurological benefits in adult humans with moderate and severe forms of the disorder. Prof. Don Cleveland, of the university’s cellular and molecular medicine department, infused the animals with one-time injections of an identified DNA drug based on antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), which selectively bind to and destroy the mutant gene’s molecular instructions for making the toxic Huntington protein. Treated animals began moving better within a month and achieved normal motor function within two, and the benefits persisted, lasting nine months – well after the drug had disappeared and production of the toxic proteins had resumed.
“For diseases like Huntington’s, where a mutant protein product is tolerated for decades prior to disease onset, these findings open up the provocative possibility that transient treatment can lead to a prolonged benefit to patients,” said Cleveland. “This finding raises the prospect of a ‘huntingtin holiday,’ which may allow for clearance of disease-causing species that might take weeks or months to reform.
If so, then a single application of a drug to reduce expression of a target gene could ‘reset the disease clock,’ providing a benefit long after huntingtin suppression has ended.” Cleveland said the approach was particularly promising because antisense therapies have already been proven safe in clinical trials and are the focus of much drug development. The findings may have broader implications, he said, for other “age-dependent neurodegenerative diseases that develop from exposure to a mutant protein product” and perhaps for nervous system cancers, such as glioblastomas.