PTSD May Raise Risk of Premature Birth

Treating PTSD early in pregnancy might lower risk of premature delivery, researchers suggest

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Premature birth can lead to serious health consequences for newborns. And new research shows that the mother's mental health status may raise the risk of early delivery.

A recent study looked at the link between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and premature births.

The study authors found that premature delivery was more common in women who had been diagnosed with PTSD in the past year than women without active PTSD.

The researchers said treating pregnant mothers' PTSD could lead to healthier pregnancies.

"Mothers with PTSD should be treated as having high-risk pregnancies," said lead study author Ciaran S. Phibbs, PhD, of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University, in a press release.

According to the authors, premature birth, in which a woman goes into labor at least three weeks before she is due, is one of the top causes of infant death.

In this study, researchers looked at data on 16,334 births provided by the Veterans Health Administration.

Almost 2,000 of these births, or about 12 percent, were to mothers with active PTSD. Another 7 percent of the mothers had a history of PTSD.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a patient goes through intense emotional trauma. PTSD is common among soldiers and other people who are often at risk of injury or death. Symptoms include depression, trouble sleeping, flashbacks or unwanted memories and anxiety.

Dr. Phibbs and colleagues found that women with active PTSD were more likely to deliver prematurely than women with past PTSD or with no history of PTSD. They estimated that PTSD led to an additional two premature births per 100 births.

However, if a woman with a history of PTSD had not had symptoms in the past year, she did not have a raised risk of premature delivery, the authors noted.

"This makes us hopeful that if you treat a mom who has active PTSD early in her pregnancy, her stress level could be reduced, and the risk of giving birth prematurely might go down," Dr. Phibbs said.

The study was published Nov. 6 in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The VA Office of Academic Affairs and Health Services Research & Development funded the study. The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 6, 2014
Last Updated:
November 7, 2014