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Simple Blood Test Could Detect Risk for Post-Natal Depression

Post-partum blues are a fairly common occurrence among young moms following the birth of a child. Pregnancy and delivery initiate a veritable maelstrom of hormone changes. Fortunately, in most cases, these hormone storms quickly settle down for mom, and the happy bonding of mother and child goes forward.

New research performed through the University of Warwick predicts however that one in every seven women who give birth will struggle with something more serious than baby blues. These women will experience post-natal depression, an actual subgroup of clinical depression. Post-natal depression usually kicks in two weeks following delivery and its impact can be significant enough to interrupt normal bonding behaviors and lead to impaired emotional and intellectual development in the child.

Discovering the Genetic Variants Which Herald Post-natal Depression

The presence of post-natal depression (PND) has been known but, until this study, identifying it has been somewhat hit and miss. Women who show signs of depression or who complain to their doctor can be helped by a tool called the Edinburgh Post-Natal Depression Score in order to determine if their post-birth condition is passing baby blues or the more chronic post-natal depression. The University of Warwick team wondered if there was some way to identify which women are vulnerable to post-natal depression. The researchers used the Edinburgh Post-Natal Depression Score (EPDS) as a screening tool with 200 mothers pre-birth and post-delivery. The women were checked prior to childbirth and again two weeks to two months after giving birth to see if there exists a genetic marker for post-natal depression.

Genetic Markers in the Endocrine System Point to PND Vulnerability

The team found that indeed such a genetic variant does appear to be present. Findings show that women with post-natal depression have consistent variations in nucleotide polymorphisms, glucocorticoid receptors and certain hormone receptors. In short, women with post-natal depression show a clear pattern in their endocrine system related to depression. The endocrine system controls, among other things, a person’s stress responses, making women with PND more susceptible to environmental changes as triggers for depression.

Larger Studies Could Result in a Predictive Blood Test

The team expects to continue its research of what it calls the HPA (hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal) axis with a broader study population in hopes of developing a blood test to identify women most likely to suffer from post-natal depression. Early identification through blood testing could open the door to preventive treatment for at risk women. Helping these women manage and overcome their depression before it interferes with mother-child bonding would benefit both parent and child.

The Warwick research team presented its findings at a recent International Congress of Endocrinology and the European Congress.

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