Could inflammation be behind postpartum depression?

Could inflammation be behind postpartum depression?

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About 1 out of every 9 women experiences postpartum depression (PPD), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PPD can cause intense feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and irritability that last longer than two weeks. In some cases, the condition is so serious that it can lead to hospitalization.

Numerous factors are thought to contribute to PPD, including hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, and just the physical and emotional challenges of giving birth and adjusting to becoming a parent. But a study by researchers at Michigan State University and other institutions suggests an inflammatory response to pregnancy within the body may also play a role.

Inflammation is a normal part of the body's immune response. During early pregnancy, inflammatory chemicals help prevent the mother's immune system from attacking the developing baby, study author and psychiatrist Eric Achtyes said. But in some women, it appears this inflammatory immune response goes into overdrive and starts interfering with other chemicals in the body that regulate mood, the study authors concluded in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

Researchers analyzed blood samples from 165 postpartum women, including some that had been admitted to a clinic for new moms with severe PPD. They found that women diagnosed with PPD had higher levels of two inflammatory chemicals in their blood and lower levels of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin, compared to women without PPD. Low levels of serotonin in the body are linked to depression generally.

The more inflammatory chemicals the women had in their blood and the lower their serotonin levels, the more severe their depressive symptoms, the researchers found.

More research is needed to confirm this study's findings and to figure out what medical providers can actually do with the information. Speaking with the public radio station WGVU, the study's senior author, professor Lena Brundin, said it might be possible to use blood samples to identify pregnant women at risk for PPD and take preventive steps.

"These women could be seen earlier for their checkup," she told the station. "There's also an opportunity to counteract inflammation. There's a lot of anti-inflammatory medications out there already. And so, our next steps might be to test some of these medications for postpartum depression."

In the meantime, if you notice any postpartum warning signs during or in the weeks after pregnancy, it's important to seek help right away. Here are two useful numbers:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can provide confidential help in a crisis. It's free and available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Postpartum Support International provides support, encouragement, and information about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, and can help you find resources in your community. The toll-free number is (800) 944-4773.

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Watch the video: PostPartum Depression Stories (August 2022).

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