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Study finds increased risk of mental health issues in children born extremely premature :

March 4, 2016

Extremely preterm children without severe disabilities may have an increased risk of symptoms of mental health issues in early adolescence, according to a new study.

“Mental health reflects complex functions of the brain, and mental health problems in EP/ELBW (extremely preterm/extremely low birthweight) children may be a result of non-optimal brain development or brain injury,” researchers said in the study “Mental Health in Children Born Extremely Preterm Without Severe Neurodevelopmental Disabilities” (Fevang SKE, et al. Pediatrics. March 4, 2016, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/03/02/peds.2015-3002).

Researchers looked at 11-year-old children in Norway who were born before 28 weeks’ gestation and weighed less than 1,000 grams at birth. The children did not have severe neurodevelopmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, blindness, deafness or severe cerebral palsy.

Parents, teachers or both filled out a series of questionnaires about the children’s mental health. A group of children that was not born extremely preterm served as a reference.

Researchers found 54% of EP/ELBW and 21% of reference children displayed symptoms of mental health problems. The EP/ELBW children had a two- to eightfold increased risk of symptoms of autism, inattention, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders compared to the reference group and based on answers from either their parents or teachers. However, when combining responses from both, there was no longer a significant increase in hyperactivity/impulsivity.

Gender differences for those mental health issues were similar in both groups of children. The authors suggested that future studies use validated diagnostic tools to better understand mental health outcomes.

“Understanding the pattern of potential mental health problems is important for parents, health care personnel, teachers, and others who relate to children born EP/ELBW,” they said.

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