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PTSD in African-American Pregnant Women

I was immediately excited when Dr. Smith announced one of our weekly responsibilities was to create a blog related to our chosen global health issue. First of all, I love blogging. Secondly, I feel called to serve the poor, the captives, the widows, the orphans, the broken-hearted…so I lucked out this quarter, being able to study global issues of trauma and violence in relation to human rights. I’m looking forward to growing in my awareness of such prevalent issues.

The first article I get to blog about is one titled, “Epigenetics and the Embodiment of Race: Developmental Origins of US Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Health,” written by Christopher W. Kuzawa and Elizabeth Sweet of Northwestern University. The article addresses epigenetics, which defines as “the study of heritable changes that occur without a change in the DNA sequence.” Essentially, Kuzawa and Sweet look at the role that environmental factors play in genetic processes, specifically how, “epigenetic markings in offspring may respond to maternal factors like diet and rearing behavior” (6). In simpler terms, a mother’s experience with certain stressors can have biological effects on her offspring.


(Photo: The Record/MCT/Landov)

In relation to my group’s topic, trauma and violence, Kuzawa and Sweet reference holocaust survivors and women who were pregnant during the 9/11 attacks. Severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) predicted “levels of cortisol excretion in postnatal offspring” (Kuzawa & Sweet, 7). While reading this connection, I hypothesized that African-American women might experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, which would in turn affect epigenetic processes. After a little bit of research I found an article that addresses the connection between PTSD in African-American pregnant women and premature births. The article states that, “by analyzing 839 women—41 percent were African-American—from August 2005 to March 2008, researchers found that women with PTSD who suffered abuse during childhood were more likely to have premature babies and give birth to babies who weighed less,” and “they also found a strong connection between low birth weight and women who suffered from PTSD due to childhood abuse” (Terrell). If PTSD in African-American women can account for lower birth weights, this would explain why African-Americans also have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (as the Kuzawa article also addresses).

-Suzanne Johnson

Kuzawa, Christopher W., and Elizabeth Sweet. “Epigenetics and the Embodiment of Race: Developmental Origins of US Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Health.”American Journal of Human Biology 21.1 (2009): 2-15. Print.

Terrell, Kellee. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Connected to Premature Births in Black Women.” BET. BET Interactive, 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Jan. 2012. <;.


One response to “PTSD in African-American Pregnant Women

  1. webkm ⋅

    Genetics definitely partake into the physiological systems of the individual however there is more than just biological components that affect health. Your blog entry is excellent because it addresses many problems present in the health of a particular set of people and you provide very surprising details. The way social structures are set up can either hinder or help the members of that particular society. People in a society construct and give meanings to ideas whether it has rational basis or not and this basic idea is embedded within the structure of society. In other words, racist beliefs contribute to health disparities in accordance with many other factors. It is not just biology that dictates health but also judgments people make regarding ethnicity, race and even gender. Because certain groups have experienced discrimination and racism, the effects of racism still holds even in the present day and effect health to a degree. People don’t always receive adequate care when pregnant or young due to inhibiting factors. It is interesting to note that when people adapt to American culture, there is an increased possibility of developing some of the major illnesses present in the United States.

    -Karina Mena

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