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Stress levels before pregnancy could influence risk of eczema in offspring

Research from the U.K. suggests that the stress levels of women prior to conception may increase their offspring’s risk of atopic eczema, according to findings published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy (June 2017; 47(6):760–769).

“We know that maternal stress can release certain hormones that can have an effect on the baby’s immune response, leading to an increased risk in conditions like eczema,” said Dr. Sarah El-Heis, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Southampton in Southampton, England.

The researchers assessed the stress levels of women recruited to the Southampton Women’s Survey before they were pregnant. During the investigation, the researchers used the Southampton Women’s Survey to record preconception maternal reports of perceived stress in daily living and the effect of stress on the health of participants. A sub-group of respondents were asked about their psychological wellbeing.

Around 3,000 infants of the survey respondents were included in the evaluation and

were assessed for eczema at ages six months and 12 months.

The survey respondents at six months postpartum were also asked if they had experienced symptoms of low mood since childbirth, and they completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

Link found between preconception stress and atopic eczema risk

Data revealed that preconception perceived stress affecting health [OR 1.21 (95% CI 1.08–1.35), p=0.001] and stress in daily living [OR 1.16 (1.03–1.30), p=0.014] were associated with an increased risk of offspring atopic eczema at age 12 months but not at six months, the authors wrote.

“More than one in six women of the mothers in the Southampton Women’s Survey reported that stress affected their health ‘quite a lot’ or ‘extremely,’” said Dr. El-Heis, who was quoted in a press release.

“Our analyses showed that their infants had a 20 per cent higher likelihood of developing atopic eczema at age 12 months when compared with the remainder of the study cohort. The findings also showed that stress and low mood experienced closer to the time of conception may have a greater impact on the risk of offspring [for developing] atopic eczema.”

Previous research has linked low maternal mood after delivery with an increased risk of eczema in the infant, but the new research showed no association between postnatal mood and eczema after taking account of preconception stress, said Professor Keith Godfrey, PhD, director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre in Nutrition at the University of Southampton in Southampton, England.

“More research is needed to investigate this interesting association, but the findings

are further evidence of the influence preconception maternal health and wellbeing

has on infants,” said Dr. Godfrey.

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