For many women, learning they are pregnant is exciting and joyful. They share the news with family and friends, start to think of baby names and the nursery, and imagine the possibilities of bringing new life into the world.
Unfortunately, that joy can turn to heartache with a pregnancy loss, such as a miscarriage (the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks pregnancy) or an ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy develops outside the uterus). Such traumatic experiences can trigger anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“There are large numbers of women who suffer early pregnancy loss,” says Priya Gopalan, MD, chief of psychiatry, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “There is a grieving process that goes along with it. For some women that becomes pathological — it becomes PTSD level.”
PTSD, associated primarily with combat veterans, can affect anyone who has experienced significant trauma. PTSD sufferers have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. These symptoms can interfere with their daily lives.
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PTSD Symptoms May Include:
- Irritability, outbursts, and self-destructive behavior.
- Intrusive thoughts or images.
- Distorted reality.
- Avoiding people, places, and things that are conscious or subconscious reminders of the trauma.
Many people experience some or all these symptoms following a traumatic event. With PTSD, symptoms can last months and even years.
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Early Pregnancy Loss Is Common
For women who know they are pregnant, about one in five will miscarry. Many women miscarry before they’re aware they are pregnant. Miscarriages are generally caused when a fertilized egg does not develop normally in the uterus. Doctors often do not know the specific reason for the miscarriage. Contrary to mistaken beliefs, miscarriages are not caused by:
- Exercise (it is sometimes recommended to change or limit some activities at various points during the pregnancy).
- Having sex.
Ectopic Pregnancy Is a Less Common Cause of Pregnancy Loss
Ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy in which a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus, occurs in approximately one in 50 pregnancies in the United States each year. In ectopic pregnancies, a fertilized egg attempts to implant in the fallopian tube, abdominal cavity, or cervix. These pregnancies cannot continue normally and require prompt medical or surgical intervention to ensure both the mother’s safety and her long-term fertility.
Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include:
- Pain on one side of the lower abdomen.
- Rectal pressure.
Pregnancy Loss Is Nobody’s Fault
Women process grief after a pregnancy loss in different ways. Some are private about their loss. Others talk with family and friends or share their experience with women who have miscarried. And while grief is normal and healthy, obsessing about the loss, reliving the experience, and blaming yourself is not. Women should talk with their health care provider if anxiety and depression affect their day-to-day life.
Individual and family support services, information, and referrals for pregnancy loss are available by contacting UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital Social Work Department at 412-641-4255 or UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100.
For immediate counseling, contact resolve Crisis Services for 24-hour help at 1-888-796-8226.
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For Journals and Media sources:National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. Enterovirus D68. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
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For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.