Women who suffer from depression during pregnancy and after childbirth are more likely to develop an autoimmune disease, experts have highlighted.
This link has also been seen conversely, with researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden saying that women with autoimmune disease are at a higher risk of experiencing perinatal depression.
Coeliac disease, autoimmune thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis are all examples of autoimmune disease, which is when the immune system attacks healthy tissue.
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The study’s first author, Dr Emma Bränn, a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, said: “Our study suggests that there’s an immunological mechanism behind perinatal depression and that autoimmune diseases should be seen as a risk factor for this kind of depression.”
Researchers looked at data from women who had given birth in Sweden from 2001 to 2013.
Out of around 815,000 women and 1.3m pregnancies, they found that just over 55,000 women had developed depression either while pregnant or within a year of giving birth.
The research team looked in detail at the rate of 41 autoimmune diseases in women with and without perinatal depression.
They found a two-directional link between depression during and after pregnancy, and autoimmune thyroiditis, psoriasis, MS, ulcerative colitis, and coeliac disease.
There was a 30% increase both in women with autoimmune disease suffering perinatal depression, and women with perinatal depression developing autoimmune disease.
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This link was strongest in MS, where the risk was double either way. There was also a strong link in those who had not had a psychiatric diagnosis before.
The research team is planning to look more closely at the longer-term effects of perinatal depression, with Dr Bränn saying: “Depression during this sensitive period can have serious consequences for both the mother and the baby.
“We hope that our results will help decision-makers to steer funding towards maternal healthcare so that more women can get help and support in time.”
Read the full study in Molecular Psychiatry.