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    Are high stress and sickness during pregnancy signs of schizophernia?

Posted on Fri, 3 Jun 2016 in General Health
Question: High stress and sickness during pregnancy...can this bring on symptoms of schizophrenia? A perfectly logical young lady took a complete turn in personality by coming up with things like saying, "my baby has been doing sign language since birth, and he tells me when he has a headache," amongst many strange thoughts and responses. The baby is close to 4 mths now. She would let the newborn baby cry and shake for nearly an hour until she felt he told her that he was hungry - by pulling his hands up to his mouth or chin - which most babies do when in distress of some kind don't they? What possibly could be happening to this dear girl?
Answered by Dr. S Patra 1 hour later
Brief Answer:
Schizophrenia is quite rare in this age. Need proper evaluation.

Detailed Answer:
Hello Dear,

Thanks for writing to us. Followings are my comments:

1) Extra stress and sickness cause release of stress hormone Cortisol, secreted into mother's blood. It is responsible to release CRH from placenta, which goes directly to the fetus.

It causes the fetus to secrete its own Cortisol, stimulates the placenta to release even more CRH, creating for the fetus a self-perpetuating stress-hormone loop.

Some research shows that the fetus is bathed in stress hormones generated by what the mother is feeling and these hormones affect the underlying fetal brain environment that shapes personality & temperament.

Another thought - Maternal stress triggers the secretion of NOT only cortisol but another stress hormone, adrenaline. Adrenaline & adrenaline-like stress hormones can cause uterine contractions that disturb the fetus and can constrict blood vessels that diminish blood flow and oxygen to the fetus. Lack of oxygen to the fetus brain is well known to be harmful to the child's brain during pregnancy and has been identified as an important factor in increasing risk for schizophrenia in later life.

2) In this case, I suggest you to consult with child psychiatrist or Psychologist to rule out Autism and Rett syndrome beside Schizophrenia (very RARE in this age).

Proper clinical examination, basic investigations (like EEG, brain imaging scan, complete thyroid profile, serotonin level etc) and treatment should be done under their guidance. She may need behavior therapy and other medication to improve some extent.

Hope, I have answered your query. Wish your good health and take care.

For future query, you can directly approach me through


Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Sonia Raina
Follow up: Dr. S Patra 4 hours later
Just to be clear, I am talking about the mother - who is 30 years old - having drastic personality changes. Why would I seek a child psychiatrist or psychologist?
Answered by Dr. S Patra 2 hours later
Brief Answer:
Evaluate for Postpartum Psychosis.

Detailed Answer:
Hello Dear,

I understand your concern. Sorry for missing out the point.

I have just explained effect on baby during pregnancy and its outcome if mother has excessive stress and sickness or schizophrenia like symptoms. In that case, new born baby should be evaluated by clinical examination and above mentioned investigation under child psychiatrist if you find any kind of abnormal behavior.

1) In this case, mother should be evaluated for postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis or schizophrenia, which occurs after child birth in few percentage. Excessive stress and sickness during pregnancy period are leading factors to develop this kind of abnormal behavior. Changes in hormones and serotonin level are associated factors.

2) Before initiating psychiatric treatment, medical causes for mood disturbance (like thyroid dysfunction, anemia) must be excluded. Initial evaluation should include a thorough history, physical examination and routine laboratory tests. EEG, brain imaging scan, thyroid profile and blood serotonin level should be done.

3) Therapy includes short-term cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with SSRI like Fluoxetine is quite helpful in women with postpartum depression.

In postpartum psychosis, anti-psychotic or a mood stabilizer or both is usually given to treat the condition. Electro Convulsive therapy (ECT) is well tolerated and rapidly effective for severe postpartum depression and psychosis.

Here, I suggest you to consult with local Psychiatrist for complete evaluation, basic investigations and appropriate therapy. It will be worthwhile.

Hope, it helps for your information. Good luck and take care.

Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Deepak
Answered by
Dr. S Patra

OB & GYN Specialist

Practicing since :2011

Answered : 4048 Questions


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