The treatment women receive following early pregnancy loss must change to reflect its psychological impact according to the researchers of a new study that found one in six women experience long-term post-traumatic stress following miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

The largest ever study into the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss from scientists at Imperial College London and KU Leuven in Belgium was published in the journal American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

It studied over 650 women who had experienced an early pregnancy loss, of whom the majority had suffered an early miscarriage (defined as pregnancy loss before 12 weeks),  or an ectopic pregnancy (where an embryo starts to grow outside the womb and is not viable).

The study revealed that one month following pregnancy loss, nearly a third of women (29%) suffered post-traumatic stress while one in four (24%) experienced moderate to severe anxiety, and one in ten (11%) had moderate to severe depression.

Nine months later, 18% of women had post-traumatic stress, 17% moderate to severe anxiety, and 6% had moderate to severe depression. 

Significant post-traumatic stress symptoms require specific treatment 

Professor Tom Bourne, lead author of the research from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Imperial College London said: “Pregnancy loss affects up to one in two women, and for many women it will be the most traumatic event in their life. This research suggests the loss of a longed-for child can leave a lasting legacy, and result in a woman still suffering post-traumatic stress nearly a year after her pregnancy loss.

"Whilst general support and counselling will help many women, those with significant post-traumatic stress symptoms require specific treatment if they are going to recover fully. This is not widely available, and we need to consider screening women following an early pregnancy loss so we can identify those who most need help.”

The research follows an earlier pilot study in 2016, which investigated the psychological impact of early-stage pregnancy loss in 128 women one and three months after miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.