The findings “underscore the need for long-term follow-up of low birth weight survivors through adolescence and adulthood, focusing on mental health,” Astrid M. W. Lærum, M.D., of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, and colleagues wrote. The findings also suggest the importance of asking patients about their birth weight during a psychiatric evaluation.
For the study, the researchers compared psychiatric symptoms and cognitive function in adults aged 26 who were participants in a long-term follow-up study of children born with a low birth weight. The participants were divided into three groups: 44 adults were in the very low birth weight group (born preterm at a weight of ≤1500 grams [3.3 pounds]), 64 in the small for gestational age (born at term with a birth weight <10th percentile) group, and 81 in the control group (born at term with a birth weight ≥10th percentile).
All participants were evaluated using the MINI-International Neuropsychiatric Interview: M.I.N.I. Plus, Norwegian version, and the Global Assessment of Functioning. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders from follow-ups at age 14 and 19 were also included in analysis.
The very low birth weight (VLBW) group had a significantly higher overall prevalence of psychiatric disorders (n=16, 36%) compared with the control group, including anxiety (n=12, 27%), mood (n=8, 18%), and somatoform disorders (n=4, 9%). The small for gestational age (SGA) group had a significantly higher overall prevalence of psychiatric disorders (n=24, 38%) compared with the control group, including anxiety (n=13, 20%), mood (n=9, 14%), and somatoform disorders (n=6, 9%). In the control group, 11 (14%) participants had a psychiatric disorder, including seven with anxiety disorders and five with substance use disorders. Participants in both low birth weight groups were also found to have lower functioning scores than controls.
“According to our longitudinal analysis, the probability of psychiatric disorders in the term SGA group increased substantially into adulthood,” the authors wrote. “Although the pre- and perinatal differences between the VLBW and the SGA are most apparent, we speculate … that the two groups may share some prenatal exposure, contributing to their similar overall adult morbidity and similar profile of non-substance use disorders.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Extremely Low Birth Weight May Be Risk Factor for Psychiatric Illness.”