AUSTIN, TEX. – The risk of depression was more than doubled in women who were anemic during pregnancy, according to a recent retrospective cohort study of nearly 1,000 women. Among patients who had anemia at any point, the relative risk of screening positive for postpartum depression was 2.25 (95% confidence interval, 1.22-4.16).
“This was an unexpected finding,” said Shannon Sutherland, MD, of the University of Connecticut, Farmington, in an interview after she presented the findings at the annual clinical and scientific meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“Maternal suicide exceeds hemorrhage and hypertensive disease as a cause of U.S. maternal mortality,” wrote Dr. Sutherland and her collaborators in the poster accompanying the presentation. And anemia is common: “Anemia in pregnancy can be as high as 27.4% in low-income minority pregnant women in the third trimester,” they wrote.
“If we can find something like this that affects depression, and screen for it and correct for it, we can make a real big difference in patients’ lives,” said Dr. Sutherland in a video interview. “Screening for anemia ... is such a simple thing for us to do, and I also think it’s very easy for us to correct, and very cheap for us to correct.”
The 922 study participants were at least 16 years old and receiving postpartum care at an outpatient women’s health clinic. Patients who had diseases that disrupted iron metabolism or were tobacco users, and those on antidepressants, anxiolytics, or antipsychotics were excluded from the study. Other exclusion criteria included anemia that required transfusion, and intrauterine fetal demise or neonatal mortality.
To assess depression, Dr. Sutherland and her colleagues administered theat routine postpartum visits. Dr. Sutherland and her coinvestigators calculated the numbers of respondents who fell above and below the cutoff for potential depression on the 10-item self-report scale. They then looked at the proportion of women who scored positive for depression among those who were, and those who were not, anemic.
Possible depression was indicated by depression scale scores of 9.2% of participants, while three quarters (75.2%) were anemic either during pregnancy or in the immediate postpartum period. Among anemic patients, 10.8% screened positive for depression, while 4.8% of those without anemia met positive screening criteria for postpartum depression (P = .007).