Tens of thousands of UK women could experience PTSD symptoms after miscarriage

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A leading expert in miscarriage has warned that tens of thousands of women in the UK could experience symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after a miscarriage. 

Prof Tom Bourne, from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Imperial College London, believes that up to 45,000 women could be affected every year. Estimates suggest that around 250,000 women have miscarriages every year in the UK, but rates are not monitored, which means that numbers could be much higher. The majority of miscarriages occur during the first three months of pregnancy.

Prof Bourne indicated that many women are not given sufficient support to prevent or reduce the risk of PTSD after going through miscarriage. His team is currently working on new approaches and technology, including the use of virtual reality, to help women who are dealing with the trauma of miscarriage.

Kellie Cunningham is one of thousands of women who has experience of PTSD following a miscarriage. Kelly had a miscarriage in 2017. She was five months pregnant when she lost her baby boy, who she named Henry. Kellie said that the experience changed her life. She was not offered psychological support after her loss and her PTSD symptoms were only detected at a group support session run by Sands, a baby loss charity. Kellie said that she felt isolated and alone. On the day she went into hospital having found out she had suffered a miscarriage, she was left to pack up her things and headed home clutching a memory box. 

Five years later, Kellie still struggles with anxiety and PTSD, but she is using her experiences to help other women as part of a support project run by Sands. She also raises money for the charity. She strongly believes that her story could have been very different and is calling for more help and support for grieving women and their partners. 

Prof Bourne has been studying the effects of miscarriage for many years and in 2019, he undertook research to try to estimate the prevalence of PTSD symptoms in women who had experienced miscarriage. He collected data from three London hospitals. From a total of 338 women, around 18% had symptoms of PTSD nine months after miscarriage. If the numbers were scaled up to reflect national figures, this would equate to around 45,000 women per year, but the true figure is likely to be higher, as the number of miscarriages does not account for those that occur at home or after the first three months of pregnancy. 

Symptoms of PTSD include reliving negative or scary moments and having flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, feeling on edge, nervous or anxious, heightened alertness, trying to avoid memories and thoughts, taking drugs or drinking to cope and blaming yourself. 

The Miscarriage Association has backed calls for more support for women and improved access to therapy. 

One approach Prof Bourne and his team are trialling is the use of VR. Researcher, Dr Nina Parker, explained that VR can help patients to feel calmer and more relaxed before medical procedures. She stressed that nothing could take away from the pain of losing a pregnancy but said that using VR headsets could be a means of reducing anxiety and minimising trauma. This technology is currently being trialled for use before and during procedures, such as manual vacuum transpiration to remove pregnancy tissue.