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Adults who were born prematurely experience higher rates of psychiatric symptoms


A new King’s College London study, published today in Psychological Medicine, shows that adults who were born prematurely have higher rates of psychiatric symptoms compared to people born full term.

This study assessed the type and severity of mental health symptoms experienced by adults who were born prematurely using the Comprehensive Assessment of At-Risk Mental States (CAARMS). The researchers studied 152 adults who were born very preterm (before 33 weeks’ gestation; gestational range 24-32 weeks) and 96 people born at full term.

The participants born very preterm showed higher positive, negative, cognitive and behavioural symptoms, including difficulties in concentrating, poor social functioning, delusions and racing thoughts. The findings in this study support the notion of a direct association between birth factors such as low gestational age and the risk of developing psychiatric disorder later in life.

In the UK, around 60,000 babies are born prematurely each year (before 32 weeks).

Jasmin Kroll, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, said, ‘This new study adds to current knowledge of the long term consequences of prematurity by showing that a significant proportion of adults who were born prematurely, who may not have mental illnesses severe enough to warrant a diagnosis, continue to have higher than normal levels of mental health symptoms. It shows that preterm born adults may need to be considered a ‘high-risk’ group and that early preventive interventions should extend to very preterm children and adolescents’.

Dr Chiara Nosarti, Reader of Neurodevelopment & Mental Health, King’s College London, said, ‘For a long time people have known that complications at birth can increase the risk of the child having mental illness when they grow up. The discovery of a potential mechanism linking early life risk factors to adult mental illness could one day lead to more targeted and effective treatments of psychiatric problems in people who experienced complications at birth.’

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre.

Notes to editors

Kroll, J*., Froudist-Walsh, S*., Brittain, P., Karolis, V., Tseng, C-E., Murray, R.M., Nosarti, C. A Dimensional Approach to Assessing Psychiatric Risk in Adults Born Very Preterm. Psychological Medicine.

* These authors contributed equally to this work.

For further media information please contact: Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, / 020 7848 5377.

About Kings College London

King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2017/18 QS World University Rankings) and among the oldest in England. King's has more than 26,500 students (of whom nearly 10,400 are graduate students) from some 150 countries worldwide, and nearly 6,900 staff. The university is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) King’s was ranked 6th nationally in the ‘power’ ranking, which takes into account both the quality and quantity of research activity, and 7th for quality according to Times Higher Education rankings. Eighty-four per cent of research at King’s was deemed ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (3* and 4*). The university is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of more than £600 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit:

About the Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-two MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

About the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research. Established by the Department of Health, the NIHR:

  • funds high quality research to improve health
  • trains and supports health researchers
  • provides world-class research facilities
  • works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
  • involves patients and the public at every step

For further information, visit the NIHR website