A new U.K. study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open, may help clinicians better detect severe and problematic anxiety in pregnant women.
While many women experience some anxiety during pregnancy, around 15 percent of all pregnant women suffer symptoms severe enough to negatively impact their day-to-day lives. Evidence suggests that a substantial proportion of women experiencing antenatal anxiety (anxiety during pregnancy) are going undetected and, consequently, not receiving any support.
Currently, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends using generic anxiety-screening tools, which may not be sensitive enough for women during pregnancy. For example, these generic tools cite physical symptoms, such as palpitations or sleep difficulties, which can also be common experiences of pregnancy.
In the new multidisciplinary study, researchers from the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit (NMAHP-RU) at the University of Stirling in Scotland have identified a number of symptoms that are reliable indicators of antenatal anxiety.
The researchers reviewed every study conducted over the last 30 years that used anxiety scales with pregnant women and that were considered of good or excellent methodological quality. It is the first time that both the content and psychometric properties of such studies were systematically evaluated.
Through the analysis, the researchers were able to identify a number of symptoms consistently shown to be reliable and valid indicators of antenatal anxiety. These include elevated levels of worry, symptoms of panic, fear of childbirth, and excessive worries about the baby’s health, said Sinesi.
“Previous research clearly shows that antenatal anxiety considerably increases the risk of postnatal depression and can negatively affect child development, both in the short and long term,” said Andrea Sinesi, who led the work as part of his Ph.D.
“We also know that existing anxiety scales developed for the general population are not reliable in screening for problematic anxiety in pregnant women.”
The symptoms identified by the review will form part of a new scale which is currently being developed by Sinesi and colleagues.
“The overall aim of the research is to develop a screening scale for antenatal anxiety that can be used by midwives and other health professionals to identify women with elevated levels of anxiety during pregnancy,” Sinesi said.
“The symptoms identified are now being used to develop a short and easy-to-complete screening tool to identify women experiencing more serious antenatal anxiety — and rule out women who are experiencing normal pregnancy-related anxiety.”
Source: University of Stirling