February 11, 2009

Age ups postpartum psychosis risk

[Posted: Wed 11/02/2009 by Deborah Condon]

Women who give birth for the first time after the age of 35 are at an increased risk of suffering some type of psychosis in the months following delivery compared to younger mothers, the results of a new study indicate.

Psychosis is a mental disorder characterised by a loss of contact with reality, such as schizophrenia. Psychotic symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions and severe thought disturbances.

Unlike postnatal depression, psychosis directly after childbirth – known as postpartum psychosis – is relatively rare. However it can have serious and long lasting consequences for both mother and child, as well as those around them. The condition only affects women and the reason for this is not fully understood.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden examined the data on almost 750,000 first-time mothers who gave birth between 1983 and 2000. They examined the risk of developing a psychotic illness during the 90 days following childbirth.

"We know from previous studies that women who've had a previous psychiatric condition are more likely to develop postpartum psychosis. Our intention in this study was to identify factors that increase the risk of postpartum psychosis in women without a history of psychiatric hospitalisation,” they explained.

Altogether, almost 900 women received hospital treatment for a psychotic illness within 90 days of their first delivery. Of these, around 50% had become ill for the first time. After 90 days, the risk of developing psychosis decreased for all mothers.

The researchers found a direct link between the age of the mother and the risk of postpartum psychosis. Those who were 35 or older having their first child were 2.4 times more likely to suffer psychosis than first-time mothers aged 19 or less.

A higher birth weight also appeared to be linked to a lower risk of psychosis.

"The most important finding is that the risk of psychosis increases sharply in close relation with the birth of a first child for women both with and without a previous psychiatric diagnosis. More studies are needed before we understand any explanatory mechanisms, such as hormonal changes during labour,” the researchers said.

Details of these findings are published in the scientific journal, PLoS Medicine.

For more information on pregnancy-related issues, see…http://www.mum.ie

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