Research Article: Maternal psychological responses during pregnancy after ultrasonographic detection of structural fetal anomalies: A prospective longitudinal observational study

Date Published: March 28, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Anne Kaasen, Anne Helbig, Ulrik F. Malt, Tormod Næs, Hans Skari, Guttorm Haugen, Yutaka J. Matsuoka.


In this longitudinal prospective observational study performed at a tertiary perinatal referral centre, we aimed to assess maternal distress in pregnancy in women with ultrasound findings of fetal anomaly and compare this with distress in pregnant women with normal ultrasound findings. Pregnant women with a structural fetal anomaly (n = 48) and normal ultrasound (n = 105) were included. We administered self-report questionnaires (General Health Questionnaire-28, Impact of Event Scale-22 [IES], and Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) a few days following ultrasound detection of a fetal anomaly or a normal ultrasound (T1), 3 weeks post-ultrasound (T2), and at 30 (T3) and 36 weeks gestation (T4). Social dysfunction, health perception, and psychological distress (intrusion, avoidance, arousal, anxiety, and depression) were the main outcome measures. The median gestational age at T1 was 20 and 19 weeks in the group with and without fetal anomaly, respectively. In the fetal anomaly group, all psychological distress scores were highest at T1. In the group with a normal scan, distress scores were stable throughout pregnancy. At all assessments, the fetal anomaly group scored significantly higher (especially on depression-related questions) compared to the normal scan group, except on the IES Intrusion and Arousal subscales at T4, although with large individual differences. In conclusion, women with a known fetal anomaly initially had high stress scores, which gradually decreased, resembling those in women with a normal pregnancy. Psychological stress levels were stable and low during the latter half of gestation in women with a normal pregnancy.

Partial Text

Ultrasonographic detection of a fetal anomaly in pregnancy causes parental psychological stress. [1, 2] To improve interventions to reduce distress, we need longitudinal information on different aspects of distress (e.g., emotional, cognitive, and behavioural data). In a study from Thailand among women carrying a fetus with an anomaly, only levels of anxiety were assessed. [3] High levels of anxiety, as measured by Spielberger’s State Anxiety Inventory, were present in the second trimester, then transiently decreased and finally increased in the last month before term (37 weeks). Nes et al. [4] conducted a population-based epidemiological study but restricted their report to Down syndrome and cleft lip and/or palate. Questionnaire data (a short version of Hopkins Symptoms Checklist 25-item) collected at recruitment (17−18 weeks) and week 30 showed that women carrying an abnormal fetus had moderate levels of distress that was stable (Down syndrome) or decreasing (cleft lip and/or palate) in the third trimester compared to women carrying a normal fetus.

The women in the study group (n = 59) had a median gestational age of 20 weeks, 2 days (range 12–26 weeks) at recruitment. The women in the comparison group (n = 111) were recruited at a median of 19 weeks, 3 days (range 12–22 weeks).




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