Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Premature Birth Linked to Later Psychiatric Illnesses

A long-term study of more than 1.3 million Swedish citizens finds a strong link between very premature birth and later development of several serious psychiatric disorders. Young adults and adolescents aged 16 and older who had been born prior to 32 weeks of gestation had twice the risk of being hospitalized for schizophrenia, nearly three times the risk of hospitalization for major depression, and were more than seven times as likely to be hospitalized for bipolar illness than those born after a full-term pregnancy. The researchers also found a link between those born from 32 to 36 weeks prematurely and the the same mental illnesses, but the risk was less than that found for the births prior to 32 weeks. In addition, very preterm birth was associated with development of eating disorders, and birth before 36 weeks was linked with a 30% increased risk of alcohol abuse and a 20% increased risk of drug abuse.

Lead researcher Chiara Nosarti, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychosis Studies at Kings College London, pointed out that "Despite these findings, the majority of people born preterm have no psychiatric problems, and the number of people hospitalized with psychiatric disease is very low." She did, however, urge routine screening of those born prematurely so that early signs of mental illness would be more likely to be detected. Study results were published last month in Archives of General Psychiatry. Nosarti and colleagues acknowledged that there may have been confounding factors for which they could not control such as family history of preterm delivery, maternal substance abuse or smoking, and bacterial or viral infections. They did control for sociodemographic characteristics and maternal psychiatric history.

To read about how prenatal antidepressant use may affect fetal growth, see Psychiatric News.

(image: hansenn/Shutterstock.com)


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