Study focuses on PTSD and pregnancy in military women

A University of South Florida College of Public Health project investigating the impact of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the pregnancy outcomes of women in the military has been funded as part of the Pentagon’s unprecedented $300-million initiative to study PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Kathleen O’Rourke, PhD, professor of epidemiology, and Elizabeth Barnett Pathak, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology, were awarded the 18-month, $214,357 contract from the Department of Defense to study the association between PTSD in military women and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including low-birth weight, premature births and other complications. The researchers will analyze data from the newly established Armed Forces Health Surveillance on women soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 through 2006.

Approximately 14 percent of U.S military personnel are now women, the majority of whom are childbearing age.

“We’ve never before had such large numbers of U.S. women serving in the military, and more than 3 percent of those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been screened positively for post traumatic stress disorder,” said Dr. O’Rourke, the study’s principal investigator and an expert in perinatal epidemiology.

More women are serving in the U.S. military than ever before.

“The military will be an important place to look at PTSD and pregnancy outcomes because enlisted women have similar levels of education as their civilian counterparts but unlike many civilian communities, they have the universal access to health care despite differences in race and ethnicity.”

Studies in the general population have shown a link between poor pregnancy outcomes and maternal stress, although the effect of stress is difficult to measure. Dr. O’Rourke says the military study will benefit the civilian population as well by increasing the overall understanding of the effects of stress on reproductive outcomes.

- Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications
- Photos courtesy of photostream