Stress won’t boost risk of pregnancy complication

Being stressed out during the first half of pregnancy may be unhealthy, but it won’t increase a woman’s risk of developing a serious complication known as preeclampsia, Dutch researchers have found.

Stress also didn’t influence a woman’s likelihood of developing a related condition known as gestational hypertension, in which blood pressure climbs to dangerous levels during pregnancy.

“Of course too much psychosocial stress is not good for a woman’s health. But women who have a lot of work stress or other kind of stress should not be afraid of getting preeclampsia or gestational hypertension,” Dr. Karlijn C. Vollebregt of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health.

Preeclampsia and gestational hypertension, known collectively as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, can harm the mother and fetus, Vollebregt and her colleagues note in their report, published in BJOG, an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Established risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, and older age.

While the cause of these disorders remains unclear, the researchers note, some have suggested stress as a factor. To investigate, they followed 3,679 women who were pregnant for the first time, 3.5 percent of whom developed preeclampsia and 4.4 percent of whom had gestational hypertension. All filled out a questionnaire measuring their stress levels before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The researchers found no relationship between a woman’s level of job stress, anxiety, anxiety related to pregnancy or depression and her risk of developing preeclampsia or gestational hypertension.

“Women who have or have had preeclampsia, and especially those women with a baby that was born too early because of preeclampsia or a baby that died, often feel guilty,” Vollebregt noted in an email interview. “They think that if they had less stress at work or at home that this could have saved the baby or this would have prevented preeclampsia.”

“This is not true,” she added. “Preeclampsia can be a severe disease but for a woman there is nothing she can do to prevent it during her pregnancy.”

SOURCE: BJOG, April 2008.

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