British doctors have identified the first advance blood test for postnatal depression, it was reported.
According to Sky News, the development could see pregnant women have a screening test which would allow those found to be at risk to receive treatment before they give birth.
Scientists are now hoping to refine the tests still further, and the tests could be ready within five years, Sky News said.
One in seven new mothers suffer from depression.
Professor Dimitris Grammatopoulos, who led the research at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, described the research as being “extremely important”.
He told Sky News: “There is evidence that if you can identify women at risk early you could treat early or introduce measures to prevent or stop the process of the disease.”
According to the news channel, a study of 200 pregnant women, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, found two molecular “signatures” in the genes that increased the risk of postnatal depression by up to five times.
Researchers believe that changes in oestrogen levels make pregnant women more sensitive to the stress hormone cortisol, and those with the genetic variations are unable to correct the hormonal imbalance after giving birth.
Prof. Grammatopoulos has claimed he could test women for the genetic changes for £30-£40, but the cost could be reduced to £10 if the screening system is automated.