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Babies Born Early More At Risk For ADHD

April 20, 2011

According to a new study from Sweden, the earlier babies are born, the more likely they are to later get a prescription for ADHD medication.

Researchers said that they found that babies born as little as three weeks before their due dates had an elevated risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The authors said that the findings suggest that mothers considering scheduling cesarean births a few weeks early reconsider and deliver as close to term as possible.

People with ADHD have trouble paying attention or controlling impulsive behaviors, but are able to be treated with behavioral therapy or medication.

The researchers analyzed a Swedish database of over a million children aged 6 to 19 in the new study.  Of those children studied, 7,506 of them had received a prescription for ADHD medication.

The children born extremely prematurely were most at risk of later developing ADHD, with their chances being two and a half times greater than a baby born at full term.

Fifteen out of every 1,000 babies born received a prescription for ADHD medication, compared to six out of every 1,000 babies born between 39 and 41 weeks of pregnancy.

Low birth-weight and severe prematurity were already known to be risk factors for developing ADHD.

The lead author said that the study confirms those findings and reveals that even babies born very close to full term are still 20 percent more likely to develop ADHD.

Seven out of every 1,000 children born moderately premature were prescribed ADHD drugs

“The finding that early term birth carries an increased risk for ADHD has important implications for planned cesarean births, which are often performed during these very weeks,” Hjern told Reuters Health in an email.

“To minimize the risk for ADHD these births should be planned as close to the full term date (that is week 40) as possible.”

Other factors also play a role in a child’s risk of developing ADHD.

The researchers accounted for those potential influences by comparing siblings, and found that extremely premature babies remained twice as likely to develop ADHD as their full-term brothers or sisters.

The study did not look at children diagnosed with ADHD, only those who filled a drug prescription for it.

Dr. Glen Aylward, a professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, said in a statement that the new research is helpful in confirming the link between prematurity and ADHD.

The study’s authors believe that some aspect of gradual brain development could be disrupted when a baby is born early, which could lead to ADHD later on in life.

Dr. Steve Faraone, a professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University, told Reuters that doctors have improved their ability to help babies survive at shorter and shorter lengths of pregnancy, “which could mean that this particular risk factor is increasing over time.”

The study is published in the latest issue of Pediatrics.

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