Mental health disorders more prominent in very preterm babies, Monash researchers find

Mental health disorders more prominent in very preterm babies, Monash researchers find

by Freya Lucas

January 11, 2022

Babies born very preterm or with a very low body weight have a higher chance of developing mental health issues such as autism, ADHD or anxiety, according to new research from the  Monash University Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health.

 

Led by Professor of Paediatric Neuropsychology Peter Anderson, the international team of researchers has found that those who were born before 32 weeks of gestation, or who had a birth weight of less than 1.5kg were significantly more likely to meet the criteria for a range of mental health disorders.

 

The study, published in EClinical Medicine, found that people who were born very preterm were 10 times more likely to meet the clinical criteria for autism spectrum disorder, five times more likely with ADHD and twice as likely with anxiety disorder.

 

“This study is the most comprehensive to date to examine the odds of those born very preterm developing psychiatric disorders, with a specific focus on autism, ADHD, anxiety and mood disorders,” Professor Anderson said.

 

“While the rate of specific psychiatric disorders is higher, it is important to stress that the vast majority of individuals born very preterm do not develop these conditions.”

 

To reach their findings researchers pooled individual, participant-level data from 10 international groups to evaluate the odds of psychiatric disorders for people who were born very preterm or with a very low body weight compared to those born at term and with normal body weight.

 

The next step in the research will be to understand the reasons behind this increase in autism, ADHD and anxiety disorders in individuals born very preterm, something which Professor Anderson says is required to target individuals and families who are at highest-risk, improving early detection and leading to earlier treatment.

 

“Currently, surveillance programs for individuals born very preterm rarely continue beyond early childhood, and predominantly focus on cognitive and motor outcomes,” he explained. 

 

“This research suggests that monitoring mental health across development in these high-risk individuals should be considered.”

 

To access the findings please see here

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