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Hum Reprod Update. 2018 Nov 1;24(6):731-749. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmy025.

The psychological impact of early pregnancy loss.

Author information

Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, Queen Charlottes and Chelsea Hospital, Imperial College, London, UK.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Imperial College Healthcare Trust, London, UK.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, London, UK.
KU Leuven, ACHG, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Kapucijnenvoer 33, Leuven, Belgium.
Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Woodstock Road, Oxford, UK.
KU Leuven, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Herestraat, Leuven, Belgium.



Early pregnancy loss (EPL) is a common event, with scope for long-term personal and societal impact. There are three decades worth of published evidence of profound psychological sequelae in a significant proportion of women. However, the wide variety of outcomes, screening instruments, assessment timings and geographical locations makes it challenging to form a coherent picture of the morbidity within the whole group and its subgroups.


This review aims to investigate three questions. (1) What is the evidence for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy in women and/or their partners? (2) What is the intensity and duration of these conditions, and how do they compare to those without losses? (3) Which patients have been found to be at highest risk of psychopathology? Answers to these questions are salient not only in day-to-day clinical interactions with those experiencing EPL, whose psychological needs may not be prioritized, but should also form the basis for tailoring healthcare policy in terms of screening for and treating the associated psychological morbidity.


The following databases were searched, from the start of each database up to July 2017: MEDLINE (Ovid interface, 1948 onwards), Embase classic + Embase (Ovid interface, 1947 onwards), and PsychINFO (Ovid interface, 1806 onwards). Search strategies were developed using medical subject headings (MeSH). The concepts of psychological morbidity (anxiety, depression or PTSD) and pregnancy loss (miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy) were first expanded with the Boolean operator 'or', then linked together using 'and'. Included studies were of prospective cohort design, including women or men following EPL (with the majority to have experienced losses before 24 weeks gestation), and reporting standardized psychometric measures for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The timing of follow-up had to be specified and standardized across participants. Manuscript quality and risk of bias was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.


We found evidence of significant depression and anxiety in the first month following EPL in women. Partners were also shown to display depression and anxiety, albeit to a generally lower level. There is also evidence of post-traumatic stress symptoms relating to the EPL in three studies.


In view of their high frequency, EPLs can significantly contribute to the overall burden of psychopathology within a population. Recognition of this impact is important, so that severely affected individuals may be screened and treated appropriately. Further research to establish risk factors to promptly identify and treat these patients, and to optimize their management, is crucial.


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