June 3, 2012
Premature Children Face Greater Risk Of Developing Psychiatric Problems
Babies who are born premature have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia or other mental disorders later on life, scientists from Sweden and the UK claim in a new study.
According to Telegraph Health Correspondent Laura Donnelly, the study discovered that the risk is greatest amongst children born following a pregnancy lasting less than 32 weeks.
Those infants are three times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of psychiatric problems during adulthood than normal-term babies, she said.
"Very premature babies have more than twice the normal chance of developing schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis," Donnelly said. "Their risk of bipolar disorder is increased more than seven-fold, while the chances of developing major depression and eating disorders are raised 2.9 and 3.5 times."
"Experts stressed that the chances of a premature baby having a serious psychiatric problem remain small," she added. "Rates of hospitalization for psychosis are raised from two in 1,000 to around four in 1,000. Babies born between 32 to 36 weeks also had an increased risk of mental health disorders, though to a lesser extent. The chance of psychosis was raised 1.6 times, of bipolar disorder 2.7 times, and of serious depression 1.3 times."
The study, which was led by Chiara Nosarti from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London and is scheduled to be published in the journal the Archives of General Psychiatry, showed what Nosarti called a "very strong link" between premature birth and mental disorders later on in life, Reuters' Kate Kelland wrote on Friday.
Their findings also discovered what Kelland called a "smaller but significant" risk of the disorders for babies born between 32 and 36 weeks, the Reuters reporter added. In all, between one and six percent of the population are believed to be affected by these psychiatric issues, Nosarti told Reuters.
"Since we considered only the most severe cases that resulted in hospitalization, it may be that in real terms this link is even stronger," Nosarti told reporters during a briefing, according to Kelland. However, she emphasized that the "majority of individuals who are born prematurely have no psychiatric or cognitive problems and are absolutely healthy and well functioning."
"We believe that the increased risk of mental disorders in those born very prematurely can be explained by subtle changes in brain development. The immature nervous system in those born prematurely is particularly vulnerable to neonatal brain injury resulting from birth complications," she added according to Donnelly, who said that researchers recommend that children be screened for psychiatric problems for the first time when at the age of five.