(HealthDay News) — People who were born very preterm may be at higher risk of anxiety disorders and certain other mental health issues, even into their 30s, a new study suggests. The findings, published online Feb. 9 in Pediatrics, give a picture of how preemies fare as they move through adulthood.
Ryan Van Lieshout, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, and colleagues interviewed 84 adults who were born from 1977 to 1982 at less than 2 pounds, on average. They were compared with 90 adults the same age, but born at a normal weight.
Overall, the researchers found, the preterm group was more than twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder, depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The risks were particularly elevated among adults who’d been exposed to a full course of antenatal corticosteroids. Their odds of social phobia, for instance, were six times higher, versus the normal birth weight group, while their risk of ADHD was about 10 times higher. Still, Van Lieshout stressed, those relative risks sound more troubling than they are. Of 84 adults in the preterm group, only eight had ADHD, for example. Similar numbers had social phobia, general anxiety, or major depression.
“The relative risks are quite high,” Van Lieshout told HealthDay. “But it’s certainly not a sure thing that these problems will occur.” As for why adults in this study faced higher mental health risks, there could be a number of explanations, Van Lieshout said. For one, he said, tiny preemies are often subjected to medical procedures, and those “early-life stressors” may have lasting developmental effects in some cases.