Preterm birth may increase risk for mental health problems

March 18, 2017  21:54

Adults born preterm at very low birth weight reported more internalizing, externalizing and avoidant personality problems than adults born at term.

“The health risks associated with preterm birth extend across the life span, including risks for cognitive impairment and aging-related illnesses such as cardiometabolic diseases. In addition, individuals born preterm are at an increased risk for severe mental disorders,” Riikka Pyhälä, PhD, of University of Helsinki, Finland, and colleagues wrote.

To assess associations between preterm birth and mental health, researchers analyzed studies that compared self-reported mental health problems between adults born preterm at very low birth weight (n = 747) and adults born at term (n = 1,512).

Adults born preterm reported more internalizing problems (P = .02) and less externalizing problems (P < .001), compared with controls.

Adults born preterm were less likely to report rule-breaking and intrusive behaviors and more likely to report avoidant personality problems but fewer antisocial personality problems (P < .001 for all).

Analysis of adults born preterm at extremely low birth weight indicated they reported fewer externalizing problems than controls born at term (P = .04).

“Our findings support the view that preterm birth constitutes an early vulnerability factor with long-term consequences on the individual into adulthood. This calls for increasing attention from school and health care professionals to recognize the preterm behavioral phenotype and the potential need for supportive measures,” the researchers concluded.

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