Pregnant women's brains seem to shrink, doctors say


WOMEN who complain they lose their minds during pregnancy may be suffering from brain shrinkage and might not regain their full mental powers until six months after giving birth.

"These are very early findings, but it may be that the two features are linked," Dr Anita Holdcroft, an anaesthetist leading the team reporting the findings, writes in New Scientist magazine.

Many women say their memories are impaired during pregnancy and complain of absent mindedness, sometimes becoming the butt of male jokes. But Dr Holdcroft, based at London's Royal Postgraduate Medical School, said there might be a tangible reason for the apparent fuzziness.

Her team of radiologists and anaesthetists found that the brains of women they tested actually shrank in late pregnancy and took up to six months to regain their full size.

"This unexpected observation could be linked to the cognitive problems experienced by some pregnant women and new mothers," said the report.

Dr Holdcroft said the team built up three sets of magnetic images to give three dimensional pictures of mothers' brains. The first set was taken towards the end of pregnancy, the second six to eight weeks after delivery and the third up to six months later.

The team found that as the women's physiology returned to the non pregnant state, their brains increased in size. The team said it was possible the women's brains were swelling from a normal size but it believed it was "much more likely" the brains had shrunk during pregnancy.

. Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution altered the course of science, suffered from panic disorder and a phobia that often keeps people shut up at home, two US doctors claim.

The diagnosis, based on Darwin's writings and other evidence, had not previously been suggested as a source of the ills that bedevilled the 19th century Englishman, yesterday's report from the University of Iowa College of Medicine said.

Fears about the reception his theory of evolution would get from the British scientific establishment might have contributed, to the onset of his symptoms, which were present during the 22 years he was writing his revolutionary On the Origin of Species.

"In descriptions of his illness, Darwin frequently referred to discrete attacks that began suddenly and left him drained," Dr Thomas Barloon and Dr Russell Noyes wrote in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association. "These attacks consisted of palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, trembling, crying, dying sensations, abdominal distress and depersonalisation."