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Genetic Test May Determine Risk of Postpartum Depression

Update Date: May 21, 2013 12:56 PM EDT

A blood test may soon become available that determines the risk of postpartum depression for pregnant women.

Postpartum depression occurs in 10 to 15 percent of new mothers, according to the Toronto Sun. That number jumps to nearly 35 percent of new mothers who had previously suffered from mood disorders. The condition is triggered by the dramatic drop in estrogen after childbirth and is marked by severe feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Currently, there is no way to determine who will suffer from postpartum depression, and it is only able to be diagnosed through a screening questionnaire or by listening to patients' complaints about symptoms. However, a study recently conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University may be able to change that. Health Day reports that the researchers discovered that changes that occur in two genes, TTC9B and HP1BP3, are linked with increased likelihood of postpartum depression. The genetic test is able to determine whether a woman would have an increased risk of the condition with 85 percent accuracy.

According to Time magazine, the research was conducted using a small sample size of 52 pregnant women. The two genes, which are believed to be important in the regulation of mood, were marked by epigenetic changes, which affect the way that genes are activated. It is believed that certain changes in the genes are able to make some women more sensitive to the drop in estrogen.

The study's sample size was small and it was conducted among women who had previously struggled with bipolar disorder or with depression, both of which elevate the risk of postpartum depression. Future studies will need to be confirmed using a more diverse group of women.

Researchers believe that a variety of factors influence a woman's risk of developing postpartum depression. For example, suffering from major stressors during pregnancy, having a support network and whether or not the pregnancy was wanted all influence the risk of postpartum depression. Though the researchers say that information is power, some people question the value of such information, saying that it may trigger unnecessary worry in women with an elevated risk.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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