One of my distant cousins was born extremely pre-term. At first, they doctors were worried that he wouldn’t make it, but after a few months in the hospital, he was ready to go home. He struggled for many years in his childhood to overcome some medical difficulties associated with pre-term birth, but new research suggests that those side effects of pre-term birth may actually have been caused by the early birth itself.

The new study conducted at the Indiana University found that many of the birth defects and medical issues associated with pre-term birth aren’t necessarily pre-existing or the factors that cause a child to be born prematurely. It may in fact be the premature birth itself that causes so many medical issues and birth defects.

It was found that pre-term birth was linked most closely to infant and young adult death as well as autism and the development of ADHD. However, other issues have also been strongly correlated with premature birth as well, including severe mental illness, learning difficulties, and even suicide and economic troubles, though the last two issues are also related to other conditions and they may also be shared among other family members.

To test their hypothesis, researchers at the University of Indiana looked at the records of 3.3 million children who were born in Sweden between 1973 and 2008. They used a sibling-comparison method and they also used a broad continuum for premature gestational ages. They studied the effects of pre-term birth and mortality, as well as the links between pre-term birth and psychological health, educational outcomes, and social functioning.

It was found that infants who were born prematurely were indeed more likely than their siblings to experience infant or young adult death as well as experience the development of autism and ADHD. On the other hand, prematurely born children who also developed severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder had siblings who were just as likely to also develop the same disorders and issues. It was concluded that infant and young adult death as well as autism and ADHD were more likely to be caused by pre-term birth, but severe mental illness and suicide were inherited disorders that were not necessarily caused by pre-term birth.

Lead author Brian D'Onofrio, associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, says that "the study confirms the degree to which preterm birth is a major public health concern and strongly supports the need for social services that reduce the incidence of preterm birth. Yet, the findings also suggest the need to extend services to all siblings in families with an offspring born preterm. In terms of policy, it means that the entire family, including all of the siblings, is at risk."

Source: Indiana University (2013, September 25). Study shines new light on consequences of preterm births. ScienceDaily.

Keyword Tags: