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Preemies at Risk for Psychiatric Disorders as Teens, Study Contends

WEDNESDAY July 20, 2011 -- Premature infants are at greater risk for certain psychiatric disorders as teenagers, including attention deficit hyperactivity and depression, a new study suggests.

These mental health problems are the result of brain injuries affecting cortical development as well as neural connectivity, said the study authors, from Columbia University Medical Center.

Although "preemies" are at risk for these injuries, the study also found that they can be detected through brain ultrasounds. This finding not only provides insight into the causes of psychiatric disorders, it could also help prevent them in the future, the scientists said.

The researchers followed 400 premature infants who had abnormal brain ultrasounds at birth until they were 16 years old. As teens, the study participants were asked questions and given cognitive tests. The study found a link between brain injuries suffered by preemies right before or after birth and specific psychiatric disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity, tic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and major depression.

The study authors concluded that a better understanding of the link between brain injuries suffered by preemies and later mental health issues could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.

The researchers said additional studies are needed to examine how brain injuries among premature babies relate to other common adult psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.

The study's findings were published in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the March of Dimes.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on premature infants.

Posted: July 2011


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