Two-way risk found in women having autoimmune diseases

New Delhi: Women with autoimmune diseases could be more likely to suffer from depression during pregnancy and after childbirth, researchers have found.

They also observed a converse relationship where women with a history of pregnancy and childbirth-linked, or perinatal, depression might be at a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases where the body’s immune system mistakenly starts attacking healthy tissues. Some of the common autoimmune diseases include gluten intolerance, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

The researchers at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, found the association was strongest for multiple sclerosis — a neurological disease. It was also strongest among women with no previous psychiatric diagnosis.

However, being an observational study, the researchers couldn’t draw a causal link. Their findings have been published in the “Molecular Psychiatry” journal.

“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,” said the study’s first author Emma Bränn, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Institute of Environmental Medicine.

For the study, the researchers used Swedish Medical Birth Register data to identify women who had given birth in Sweden between 2001 and 2013.

Of the more than eight lakh women and 13 lakh pregnancies included in the study, the team found that more than 55,000 had been diagnosed with depression during their pregnancies or within a year after delivery.

The researchers said the results revealed a “bidirectional association” between perinatal depression and autoimmune diseases, with the risk quantified at 30 per cent both ways.

“The bidirectional association was more pronounced among women without psychiatric comorbidities and strongest for multiple sclerosis,” the researchers wrote.

They found that the risk related to multiple sclerosis was twice in both the directions.

“Depression during this sensitive period (of pregnancy) can have serious consequences for both the mother and the baby,” said Bränn.

“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,” she said.

The team said it will continue to examine the long-term effects of depression during pregnancy and in the first year following childbirth.