New algorithm from Northwestern predicts postpartum depression severity: 4 notes

Researchers from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago developed an algorithm to predict the severity of new mothers' postpartum depression a year after giving birth.

Four notes:

1. To develop the algorithm, the researchers reviewed data on women who gave birth at an academic medical center in Pittsburg between 2006 and 2011. The data comprised symptom severity assessments of women with postpartum depressive disorder, which were conducted at four-to-eight weeks, three months, six months and 12 months after giving birth.

2. To assess the severity of a patient's depression, the researchers categorized mothers with postpartum depression into one of three trajectories: over time the patient gets better, by 12 months postpartum the patient is in a more positive direction and by 12 months postpartum the patient is at the same level or has worsening symptoms.

3. In a paper published Jan. 15 in Depression & Anxiety, the researchers described their algorithm, which predicts which trajectory a patient with postpartum depression is likely to fall in. The algorithm, which was 72.8 percent accurate, is based on four key characteristics:

  • Number of children the mother has
  • Ability to function in general life, at work and in relationships
  • Education level, which can determine access to resources
  • Depression severity at four to eight weeks postpartum

4. The researchers hope these findings will help inform care for new mothers, potentially helping physicians intervene and support patients in seeking treatment earlier if they are at risk for developing postpartum depression.

"By the time a mother comes in for her six-week postpartum visit, we have the potential to predict the severity of her depression over the next 12 months," said first author Sheehan Fisher, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "This would be a game-changer for mothers and their clinicians because we could encourage early intervention so moms have better odds of success with their treatment over time."

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