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Blood samples from women may help predict depression during pregnancy, study finds

Experts say inflammation is an important factor in depression

Pregnant woman with sore back
Photo (c) damircudic - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the Van Andel Research Institute found that women’s blood may predict their likelihood of developing depression during pregnancy. Their work showed that inflammatory markers in the blood are likely to identify those who have the highest risk of pregnancy-related depression

“Depression isn’t just something that happens in the brain – its fingerprints are everywhere in the body, including our blood,” said researcher Dr. Lena Brundin. “The ability to predict pregnancy-related depression and its severity will be a gamechanger for protecting the health of mothers and their infants. Our findings are an important leap forward toward this goal.” 

Identifying depression risks during pregnancy

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 114 women from Spectrum Health’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics. The participants underwent medical exams and provided blood samples during each trimester of their pregnancies and after giving birth.

The researchers identified 15 blood biomarkers that were linked with an increased risk of depression during pregnancy and postpartum; ultimately, the team was more than 80% effective at predicting the likelihood that the women developed depression while pregnant. 

The study suggests that inflammation is the link between these biomarkers and pregnancy-related depression symptoms. The researchers explained that the body’s immune response changes greatly during pregnancy, which is a normal and healthy bodily response. However, it also tends to cause inflammatory markers to spike – especially in the beginning and final months of pregnancy. This inflammation can affect women both mentally and physically. 

Considering the prevalence of mental health concerns during pregnancy and postpartum, the researchers hope these findings are more widely adopted to help identify women who may have the highest risk of developing pregnancy-related depression. 

“Having an objective and easily accessible method associated with depression risk, such as a blood test, provides a unique tool for helping identify women who may develop depression during pregnancy,” said researcher Dr. Eric Achtyes. “Our findings are an exciting development and an important first step towards using these types of methods more widely to help patients. Our next steps include replicating the results in additional patient samples to verify cut-offs for depression risk.” 

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