A British study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, linked two gene variants with the risk of postnatal depression. According to Professor Dimitris Grammatopoulos, who led the research at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, women with gene variants in the glucocorticoid receptor (GR, NR3C1) and corticotropin releasing hormone receptor 1 (CRHR1) genes had up to five times the risk of developing postnatal depression. The findings were based on the association analysis of 140 pregnant women who completed the study.
Changes in estrogen levels during pregnancy make women more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol. Soon after the baby is born, the estrogen levels return to normal. However, women with these genetic variations are unable to do so, leading to postnatal depression.
AdvertisementPostnatal depression is a type of depression some women experience after they have had a baby. It usually develops in the first four to six weeks after childbirth, but in some cases, it may take months to develop.
Postnatal depression is not the same as 'baby blues' which is a mild type of depression that occurs after childbirth and lasting from a few hours to a few days. During this time, the new mother may feel tearful and irritable, but no medical treatment is needed since in milder forms it is considered normal. However, if it is more prolonged and severe, it can develop into postnatal depression.
Symptoms of postnatal depression include low mood, feeling unable to cope and difficulty with sleeping. Unfortunately, many women are not aware they have the condition. Sometimes, the new mother may feel very agitated or alternatively very apathetic or have feelings of guilt and self-blame. She may even be thinking about harming self or the baby.
In view of this, the research is very important. 'There is evidence that if you can identify women at risk early, you could treat early or introduce measures to prevent or stop the process of the disease,' Grammatopoulos said.
Based on this research, Grammatopoulos and his team have developed the first ever blood test for postnatal depression which would allow women found to be at risk to receive treatment for the disease before they give birth.
Prof Grammatopoulos said he could test women for the genetic changes for between £30 and £40. But automating the test so that robots could screen large numbers of samples would bring the cost down to just £10.
'Usually we focus on the mother, but the negative impact on the child is also immense,' Prof Grammatopoulos said. He is now looking for further genetic changes to increase the predictive power of the test.