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Study Draws Links between Hormone Levels and Risk of Mental Problems in Women

May 25, 2013 08:18 AM EDT

Women who have experienced a psychological trauma are most likely to have anxiety attacks and negative thoughts at a particular time in their menstrual cycles, a new study has found. Researchers say that this window of opportunity could be used for targeting mental issues in women who have experienced a traumatic event.

A traumatic event causes life-long mental problems in many people who might have unwanted or negative thoughts days or months after the event. Previous research has shown that experiencing a traumatic event in early childhood can lead to a girl having early or late menarche.

The latest study from University College London shows that traumatic events affect the menstrual cycle in women. The study included 41 women aged between 18 and 35, who had regular menstrual cycles. Also, none of the women were taking any contraceptive pills at the time of the study.

All the women in the study watched a movie clip that had scenes of violence and death. Researchers then obtained saliva samples from each woman to assess the levels of stress hormones. These women were also asked to record the number of times that they had unwanted thoughts about the movie during the next few days.

"We found that women in the 'early luteal' phase, which falls roughly 16 to 20 days after the start of their period, had more than three times as many intrusive thoughts as those who watched the video in other phases of their menstrual cycle," said Dr Sunjeev Kamboj, Lecturer in UCL's Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, an author of the study, according to a press release.

The study could help doctors identify women who are at risk of developing mental issues following a traumatic event, researchers said.

"Asking women who have experienced a traumatic event about the time since their last period might help identify those at greatest risk of developing recurring symptoms similar to those seen in psychological disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)," added Dr Kamboj.

The study is published in the journal called Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

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