Background: Induced abortion is a common medical intervention. Whether psychological sequelae might follow induced abortion has long been a subject of concern among researchers and little is known about the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and induced abortion. Thus, the aim of the study was to assess the prevalence of PTSD and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) before and at three and six months after induced abortion, and to describe the characteristics of the women who developed PTSD or PTSS after the abortion.
Methods: This multi-centre cohort study included six departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Sweden. The study included 1457 women who requested an induced abortion, among whom 742 women responded at the three-month follow-up and 641 women at the six-month follow-up. The Screen Questionnaire-Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (SQ-PTSD) was used for research diagnoses of PTSD and PTSS, and anxiety and depressive symptoms were evaluated by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Measurements were made at the first visit and at three and six months after the abortion. The 95% confidence intervals for the prevalence of lifetime or ongoing PTSD and PTSS were calculated using the normal approximation. The chi-square test and the Student's t-test were used to compare data between groups.
Results: The prevalence of ongoing PTSD and PTSS before the abortion was 4.3% and 23.5%, respectively, concomitant with high levels of anxiety and depression. At three months the corresponding rates were 2.0% and 4.6%, at six months 1.9% and 6.1%, respectively. Dropouts had higher rates of PTSD and PTSS. Fifty-one women developed PTSD or PTSS during the observation period. They were young, less well educated, needed counselling, and had high levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. During the observation period 57 women had trauma experiences, among whom 11 developed PTSD or PTSS and reported a traumatic experience in relation to the abortion.
Conclusion: Few women developed PTSD or PTSS after the abortion. The majority did so because of trauma experiences unrelated to the induced abortion. Concomitant symptoms of depression and anxiety call for clinical alertness and support.