Psychosocial stress related to the loss of a close relative the year before or during pregnancy and risk of preeclampsia

Hypertension. 2013 Jul;62(1):183-9. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.111.00550. Epub 2013 Apr 22.


The role of stress in the pathogenesis of preeclampsia has only been investigated in a few studies, and the findings are not conclusive. We analyzed whether maternal bereavement shortly before or during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia. We conducted a cohort study of singleton births in Denmark during 1978-2008 and in Sweden during 1973-2006 (n=4 122 490) by linking national population-based registers. Mothers were considered exposed to bereavement if they lost a parent, a sibling, a partner, or a child the year before or during pregnancy (n=124 553). The risk of preeclampsia was slightly increased for women who lost a close relative during the 6 months before conception (odds ratio [OR], 1.14; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.06-1.23) or during the first trimester of pregnancy (OR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.03-1.29). Exposure during these periods tended to be more closely related to early preeclampsia (delivery before 34 weeks of gestation; OR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.12-1.67) than to late preeclampsia (OR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.06-1.20). The strongest association was observed between loss of a child and early preeclampsia when the exposure window was from 6 months before pregnancy until start of second trimester (OR, 4.03; 95% CI, 2.46-6.61). Our results related to timing of exposure suggest that severe stress may influence early placentation. However, the public health implications of our findings are limited in populations with a low prevalence of severe stress exposures.

Keywords: bereavement; cohort study; placentation; preeclampsia; psychological stress.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pre-Eclampsia / epidemiology
  • Pre-Eclampsia / etiology*
  • Pre-Eclampsia / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult