Finding treatments for the psychological effects of miscarriage

Tommy’s researchers would like to know why some women suffer severe mental health problems after having a miscarriage and want to find out how best to help them.
  • Authors list

    Professor Tom Bourne, Professor Phillip Bennett, Professor Arri Coomarasamy, Dr Adam Devall, Professor Siobhan Quenby

    Start date: 2018    
    End date: 2026

Why do we need this research?

Miscarriages  are traumatic; there is no way around it. Sometimes though, grief can turn into something very severe. Occasionally, miscarriage can lead to problems with mental health such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Our researchers previously carried out the PIEPE – Psychological Impact of Early Pregnancy Events – study that looked at how common, and severe, these different conditions are. Our researchers followed 192 women and their male partners for nine months following a miscarriage and found that 1 in 3 women had symptoms of PTSD one month after their miscarriage and 1 in 3 had symptoms of moderate or severe anxiety. At nine months, these numbers had dropped to around 1 in 5. Our researchers found that mental health problems occurred less often in male partners, although the numbers were still significant and this emotional burden should be recognised.

We want to understand why some parents are affected by these severe reactions, while others aren’t. Even more, we want to know how to help them.

What’s happening in this project?

Our researchers are planning two clinical trials that will assess potential treatments that could reduce the psychological impact of miscarriage. In one, the team will carry out a randomised controlled trial to find out whether intrusive memories can be reduced by carrying out a a brief visual task shortly after miscarriage. In the other, the team hope to test whether cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – delivered online by a therapist – can reduce the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety among women who have had a miscarriage. Women who meet the criteria for PTSD, moderate/severe depression or anxiety three months after their miscarriage will be assigned to either therapist-delivered online CBT or to standard treatment; levels of PTSD, anxiety and depression will be assessed nine months after the miscarriage.

Our researchers also want to find out more about the psychological impact of molar pregnancies. A molar pregnancy is a very rare complication of pregnancy that occurs when a fetus doesn’t form properly in the womb. There are often no symptoms, meaning that the molar pregnancy may only be diagnosed during a routine ultrasound scan at 8–14 weeks, or during tests that are carried out after a miscarriage. Surgery is usually required, and some women may also need chemotherapy to completely remove the molar pregnancy tissue. Our researchers think that women who have had a molar pregnancy may be even more psychologically vulnerable than other women experiencing miscarriage, in part because of the prolonged treatment and follow-up required, and the necessary delay in trying to get pregnant again. In fact, in one study of 16 women who had a molar pregnancy, half were experiencing PTSD one month after diagnosis.

Our researchers now want to carry out a large study to find out more about the psychological impact of molar pregnancy on both women and their partners, including whether there are any particular risk factors that can be used to predict who might be most severely affected.

What difference will this project make?

As well as giving us a better understanding of the psychological impact of molar pregnancy, we hope that this research will identify cost-effective treatment options that can be used to reduce the emotional suffering that some women experience following a miscarriage. 

If you have experienced a miscarriage and need to talk to someone, please call our free helpline on 0800 014 7800 between 9-5, Monday to Friday, or find more information about miscarriage here.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. Maternal and fetal research is underfunded and we need your support to continue. There are many small and large ways you can support us, find out more here.