Research shows no direct association between anxiety symptoms and adverse pregnancy outcomes

New Orleans -- According to a review of the research on anxiety and pregnancy outcomes, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch found that experiencing anxiety symptoms during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of a number of pregnancy complications such as having a longer labor or a low birth weight baby. These results will be presented at the 114th annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

"Pregnancy can be an emotional time for women and, for some, anxiety associated with the pregnancy can be compounded by pre-existing difficulties such as having an inadequate social support system," said lead author Heather Littleton, PhD. She and coauthors Carmen Breitkopf, PhD, and Abbey Berenson, MD, from the University of Texas Medical Branch sought to evaluate if there is a correlation between the anxiety experienced during pregnancy and adverse perinatal outcomes. Anxiety was defined as either current levels of anxious symptoms such as tension and worry or a woman's general tendency to become anxious in stressful situations.

Previous research examining whether anxiety during pregnancy does cause harmful effects has shown mixed results until now. This meta-analysis of research that spanned 39 years and included 50 studies of 48 sample groups of women recruited from prenatal clinics and other medical settings, clarifies that within the range of normally experienced variations in maternal emotional distress, no effects on reproductive outcomes are evident. Perinatal data was collected from participants' medical charts or from a physician's report.

While anxiety was not found to have a direct effect on perinatal outcomes, a number of important outcomes that have been theorized to be affected by anxiety have not been studied. This includes the development of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and having a small weight for gestational age infant. In addition, more work is necessary to determine if these findings generalize to women with very high levels of anxiety, such as those who have an anxiety disorder.

"This review of the literature clearly shows that additional research is necessary to completely understand how to best treat an anxious pregnant woman," says Dr. Littleton, "and such work evaluating the mental and physical health of women during pregnancy could help to increase the number of healthy babies that are born."

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Presentation: "Correlates of Anxiety Symptoms during Pregnancy and Association with Perinatal Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis," Heather L. Littleton, PhD, Carmen R. Breitkopf, PhD, and Abbey B. Berenson, MD, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Session 4109 - Paper Session: Behavioral Health, 10:00 – 11:50 AM, Sunday, August 13, Morial Convention Center, Level 2, Meeting Room 277

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office

Dr. Littleton can be contacted by cell phone during the convention at (409) 370-0077. After the convention she can be contacted by e-mail at hlittleton@yahoo.com or by phone at (409) 370-0077.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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