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Jan 14, 2022
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Scientists explain why it is important to track stress in pregnant women

Tracking stress in pregnant women with a special device or regular checkups can prevent developmental delay in their unborn children. Such a study using artificial intelligence and an electrocardiogram (ECG) was conducted by scientists from Germany, Argentina, Canada and the United States.

“Stress affects fetal brain development and is associated with subsequent neuropsychiatric conditions such as ADHD and autism, as well as neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. But the question is, what do we do with this information in practice?” – said one of the co-authors of the study, Martin Frasch.

The researchers examined whether biomarkers that indicate stress could be recognized and tracked using ECG data. High stress levels were confirmed by medical observations and measurements of maternal cortisol levels. The fetal stress index was measured by the relationship between the fetal heart rate and the woman’s heart rate.

Over the course of 12 months, the team trained the AI ​​system to link previously measured psychological, molecular, and biophysical biomarkers of maternal and fetal stress to ECG readings. As a result, the system could automatically and non-invasively track the stress level of the expectant mother.

The study involved 107 women at 32 weeks gestation: 59 were controls and 48 underwent a routine ECG to collect data indicative of stress-related biomarkers.

The scientists were able to discover biomarkers that clinicians could use to reduce maternal stress and develop an intervention plan to eliminate any physical and mental delays in unborn children.

The next step would be to use a portable device that pregnant women could wear outside of the research environment, the scientists say.

“If we knew which children are exposed to this stress in the womb, and if we could change their developmental trajectory, this would have a positive impact on the health of generations,” said Martin Frasch.


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