Miscarriage tough on men, harder on women

Many men suffer emotionally when their partner loses a pregnancy, new research shows. But they recover more quickly from their distress than women do, the study shows.

Not too long ago, experts thought that a man didn't bond with his unborn child, and that miscarriages didn't affect men. While several investigators have since reported that men also report feelings of loss, sadness, and helplessness, it's not clear how severe their distress is, or how long it lasts.

To investigate, Dr. Grace Kong of Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong and colleagues followed 83 couples for one year after a miscarriage. They used two tests to gauge levels of psychological distress in both men and women: the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). None of the study participants had a history of mental illness.

Immediately after the miscarriage occurred, the researchers found, more than 40 percent of the men were suffering significant psychological distress, as measured by the GHQ-12. By three months, however, just 7 percent reported this level of distress, and at one year, 5 percent of the men did.

But among the women, 52 percent had significant distress immediately after miscarriage, over 20 percent did three months later, 14 percent did at six months, and 8 percent reported distress one year later.

Findings were similar with the BDI: immediately after the miscarriage, 26 percent of women and 17 percent of men had high levels of depression; three months later, 12 percent of women and 7 percent of men were depressed. One year later, 10 percent of women and 7 percent of men still had significant depressive symptoms.

Women in more troubled marriages were more likely to be depressed after miscarrying, as were those who had seen the fetal heartbeat on ultrasound before losing the pregnancy.

But the only factor that independently predicted whether or not a man would become depressed was whether the pregnancy had been planned. A planned pregnancy was a significant risk factor for high levels of depression soon after the event.

The study also found that men were more likely to be optimistic about the possibility of future pregnancies than women were; this may have had something to do with their lower levels of emotional distress, the researchers say.

The results, published in the obstetrics journal BJOG, suggest that the psychological impact of miscarriage on men is "less intense and enduring" than on women, the researchers note.

Because both partners were most distressed immediately after miscarriage, Kong and her team say any interventions to help these couples should occur soon after the pregnancy loss. (Reuters Health – 26 July 2010)

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