Clear Link Found Between Autoimmune Disease and Perinatal Depression


A recent study conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet has revealed a strong association between autoimmune disease and perinatal depression in women. The study, which was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that women with autoimmune disease are more likely to experience depression during pregnancy and after childbirth. Conversely, women who have a history of perinatal depression are at a higher risk of developing autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy tissue. Some of the most common autoimmune diseases include celiac disease (gluten intolerance), autoimmune thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed data from the Swedish Medical Birth Register, identifying all women who had given birth in Sweden between 2001 and 2013. Out of the approximately 815,000 women and 1.3 million pregnancies in the group, over 55,000 women had been diagnosed with depression during pregnancy or within a year after delivery.

The researchers compared the incidence of 41 autoimmune diseases in women with and without perinatal depression, taking into account genetic and environmental factors by including the affected women’s sisters in the analysis. The results showed a bidirectional association between perinatal depression and autoimmune thyroiditis, psoriasis, MS, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease. Overall, women with autoimmune disease had a 30% higher risk of experiencing perinatal depression. Similarly, women with perinatal depression had a 30% higher risk of developing autoimmune disease.

The association was especially strong for MS, with the risk being doubled in both directions. The association was also stronger in women who had not previously been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.

The study’s first author, Emma Bränn, a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, explained that the findings suggest there is an immunological mechanism behind perinatal depression and that autoimmune diseases should be considered a risk factor for this type of depression. The researchers plan to further investigate the long-term effects of depression during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth.

Depression during this critical period can have significant consequences for both the mother and the baby,” Dr. Bränn stated. “We hope that our results will encourage decision-makers to allocate more funding towards maternal health care so that more women can receive timely help and support.

Since the study was observational, no conclusions can be drawn regarding causality. However, the findings provide important insights into the relationship between autoimmune disease and perinatal depression, highlighting the need for further research and support for women experiencing these conditions.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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