Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have found molecular markers in pregnant women’s blood that can predict who will develop postpartum depression (PPD) before the onset of symptoms. They want to develop a blood test to assess expectant parents and help those who are in danger.

The CDC reports that one in ten American women suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), which can cause a range of negative emotions such as helplessness, worthlessness, tiredness, sadness, and others. During pregnancy and the postpartum period, it is one of several mood and anxiety disorders known collectively as PMADs.

Why Do Women Experience Postpartum Depression?


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Biological, psychological, and social variables all have a role in the development of postpartum depression. Studies like the one used here can help find potential biological dangers. An individual’s past struggles with mental illness also play a role.

There are mental elements, such as long-term anxiety, repressed anger, and a lack of closure after a loss. Then there are social aspects to consider, such as discrimination or a lack of resources. Furthermore, neurotransmitters play a role, which is why some people get relief from [antidepressants].

Is Postpartum Depression Influenced by Biological Factors?

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PPD patients had lower levels of extracellular mRNAs than healthy controls. The process of autophagy cannot be finished without those mRNAs. Autophagy, in its most basic definition, is the process by which cells recycle and dispose of damaged or obsolete components.

When cells lack the ability to purge waste, their functions suffer. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are just two of the diseases that have been linked to autophagy dysfunction.

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Current theories suggest that imbalances in neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in the brain may contribute to PPD and other mood disorders. This study demonstrates that while aberrant neurotransmitter levels may be associated with PPD, they may not be the primary cause.

Neurotransmitter activity, such as serotonin activity, may be disrupted, as has been postulated; however, this may be due to cells’ inability to eliminate aging components. Multiple studies in animal models have demonstrated that serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) enhance brain autophagy.

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Many antidepressants have been found to work by stimulating autophagy in the brain. These results hold promise for paving the way toward novel therapies for PPD. Treatments for PPD have historically focused on balancing neurotransmitters.

However, medications that stimulate autophagy may be more beneficial. Clinical trials of these drugs are currently in progress to determine their efficacy in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

When Can We Expect a Test for Postpartum Depression?

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Additional study is required before a blood test for PPD prediction can be made available. The authors note that the study’s limitations stem from its relatively small sample size and lack of racial diversity. The costly, specialized equipment needed for analyzing blood samples adds to the overall cost.

There is high confidence that we can devise a test. We plan to perform these studies in a larger, more representative sample of the community in an effort to identify a subset of these PPD patients’ shared genetic risk factors. As a result, the price of each test would drop from several thousand dollars per blood sample to below ten dollars.

Why Is It Important to Spot Postpartum Depression Right Away?


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Roughly half of all women who suffer from a mental disorder during pregnancy never receive a diagnosis. This type of blood test could be an additional resource for supporting new parents.

Maybe we could stop people from getting depressed or anxious in the first place, reducing the burden on their loved ones. Children of all ages, including the infant as well as the partner, might be affected by this illness.

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All pregnant women in this country are required to have a test for gestational diabetes. PMADs outnumber gestational diabetes, and they can have serious psychological and social consequences down the line.

Then, expecting parents who are at risk for PPD can take steps to safeguard their mental health by altering their behavior. That means prioritizing sleep, eating well, and unwinding daily. If they anticipate needing the assistance of a mental health professional after giving birth, they could find one in advance.

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When symptoms of depression or anxiety become so severe that they impair daily life, it’s time to get help from a trained expert. Examples include group treatment, individual therapy, and reproductive psychiatry with a therapist that specializes in caring for mothers with mental health issues.

It is easy for pregnant and postpartum women who are experiencing PPD to fall between the gaps and not receive the help they need. Better screening for those at risk of developing PPD and more effective therapies for those with symptoms could result from future research on how to predict PPD.

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