Combating Depression During Pregnancy with Light Therapy

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A study on the effects of light treatment conducted in Switzerland on 27 females has provided results that may give a tool beyond antidepressants for depression treatment in pregnant patients. The findings will be of use to doctors who are unwilling to treat pregnant women with antidepressants for fear damage to the foetus may occur.

“A lot of people feel like they’re in between a rock and a hard place.”

This is according to Dr. C. Neill Epperson, head of the Penn Centre for Women’s Behavioural Wellness in Philadelphia. This doctor was not involved in the Swiss study, yet she said it is a consistent worry amongst the very same doctors that a lack of treatment may lead to complication in the birth.

One in Ten

Research shows that as many as one in every ten pregnant women is experiencing the effects of depression. The depression puts them at a heightened risk of delivering the child preterm, with the consequent low birth weight.

Seasonal Defective Disorder

The study into how light therapy can affect women in this space, came about as a result of light therapy being proven to benefit people with seasonal defective disorder. This condition means that people are more prone to being depressed when there is less sunlight as determined by the seasons. There was evidence of effect on this sphere, but there were suggestions too that light therapy could be of benefit with non seasonal depression also.

Small yet Conclusive

Anna Wirz-Justice of the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland conducted the study along with her research colleagues to determine if the suggestion that this type of treatment works would stand up against the needs of pregnant women. Whilst the study was small the findings are conclusive.

How Evaluated

46 depressed women were taken, and randomly assigned to being treated with either a non-therapeutic dim red light, (The placebo) or a bright fluorescent light (The Treatment). The women were directed to sit under the light for one hour every day, they would begin the therapy session within a few minutes of their rising from slumber. Over the course of the 5 week study the participants would come to meet the researchers at regular intervals, at which point evaluations were made.

27 Remained out of 46

Nineteen of the women had to leave before the project was completed due to their commencing a course of antidepressants or otherwise, therefore 27 good specimens remained for the conclusion of the study.

Depression Symptoms Reduced

The study showed by the end, that out of these 27 the 16 women who received the actual light therapy as opposed to the placebo demonstrated remarkable benefits from the treatment. Improvements in depression symptoms were experienced by 13 women out of this 16 with a 50% reduction in symptoms found, with 11 of the subjects no longer presenting any symptoms of depression.

Of the placebo group 4 women no longer suffered any symptoms with just under half of the recipients of the placebo also demonstrating a drop in depression symptoms.

Safe Treatment

Dr Anna Wirz said; “The light therapy had no side effects, it’s like going outside for an hour a day but without the risks associated with UV light.” The Doctor also suggested that there would be no fall off in benefit if the women were to continue their treatment beyond the 5 week period. She added that the therapy can be used leading right up to the birth and beyond. This would lessen the likelihood of depression emerging in the wake of the birth which is a very common occurrence.

As Good as Drugs

Yet Time Consuming

The results are according to the doctor as good as the results affected by the taking of antidepressant drugs, but it is the need to devote an hour each day to the treatment that may be too much time to be a feasible treatment method for most women. She said that the downfall of this type of treatment is that there really needs to be a motivation to pursue the course. But she is positive that the research that has proven the effectiveness of light therapy will be welcome news to medical practitioners looking for another treatment method.

The associated costs aren’t all that different from each other either, with antidepressants averaging at £15 per month against the acquisition of a therapeutic light costing close to £145. The study is ongoing in an attempt to realise the same results in other groups of depressed and pregnant women.

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