Spanish researchers have introduced a new intervention model that diagnoses postnatal depression with an 80 percent success rate.

The finding is salient because worldwide, 13 percent of women who give birth suffer from postnatal depression. This depression can significantly debilitate a new mother, compromising her quality of life and ability to care for her baby.

“Early diagnosis of postnatal depression would make it possible to intervene to prevent it from developing among women at risk,” according to Salvador Tortajada, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV).

Experts reviewed data on 1,397 Spanish women who gave birth between December 2003 and October 2004 in seven hospitals in Spain, and devised various models that can predict which mothers run the risk of developing depression during the first weeks after giving birth.

This study, which is the first of its kind in Spain and has been published recently in the journal Methods of Information in Medicine, gives the best results to date in terms of predicting this illness.

“Now it needs clinical evaluation, and for psychiatrists to start to test it directly on patients in order to study the true potential of these tools,” says Tortajada.

The researchers used sophisticated mapping methods called artificial neuronal networks and extracted a series of risk factors highlighted in previous studies.

These included the extent of social support for the mother, prior psychiatric problems in the family, emotional changes during the birth, neuroticism and polymorphisms in the serotonin transport gene. Genes with high levels of expression lead to an increased risk of developing the illness.

They also discovered two protective factors that reduce the risk of depression – age (the older the woman, the lower her chance of depression), and whether a woman has worked during pregnancy.

According to the researchers, “it can be seen that these factors are relevant in the neuronal networks, but not by using other statistical methods.”

Followup studies are indicated to verify this finding and expand the model to include additional variables.

Source: FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology