Women's Health
Biological Changes Found in Pregnant Women with Chronic Stress
Aug 13, 2013 - 1:33:05 PM

( - Researchers at Emory's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing have identified underlying biological changes lead to a reduced ability to control the production of pro-inflammatory proteins (called cytokines) from immune cells and cortisol, a major stress hormone.

In a study inĀ Psychoneuroendocrinology, the team looked for mechanisms that contribute to the high rates of preterm birth experienced by minority and low-income women. They investigated whether these women showed differences in inflammation and cortisol levels compared to Caucasian or higher income women.

Inflammation and elevated free cortisol during pregnancy are associated with significant adverse maternal and infant outcomes including preterm birth, hypertension, diabetes, preeclampsia and miscarriage. Long-term effects of chronic stress during pregnancy are also associated with behavioral and emotional problems for infants throughout toddlerhood.

Led by Elizabeth Corwin, PhD, associate dean for research at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, the team measured inflammation, self-reported stress, and cortisol levels in 203 pregnant women during their third trimester.

Stress and total cortisol levels were significantly higher in low income and minority women, and the ability to control inflammation was lost.

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