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Adults who were born prematurely experience higher rates of psychiatric symptoms

Posted on 12/01/2018

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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, ioppn-pr@kcl.ac.uk / 020 7848 5377.

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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. www.mrc.ac.uk

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
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  • 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 nihr.ac.uk  

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