June 6, 1997 Children who are born very premature remain at risk of psychological and psychiatric problems into adolescence, despite neonatal intensive care.
Neil Marlow, M.D., reported the most recent study of this kind last month at the Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Marlow and colleagues studied a cohort of 137 children who were placed in neonatal intensive care in Liverpool, UK between 1981-83. Children were free of major disabilities and are considered physically healthy. All children's birthweights were below 1500 grams (about 3.3 pounds).
At ages 11-13 years, these children were almost four times as likely to exhibit behavioural or psychiatric problems, compared to controls. On a questionnaire, these children were significantly more likely to report themselves feeling depressed, anxious, and less social than peers. Approximately 10 percent of the very low birthweight children also showed significant learning problems.
Attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity -- which has been found in many premature children at younger ages than those of the cohort -- was present in 26 percent of the children, compared to to 6 percent of controls.
It was not possible to associate any of these conditions with events that occured in the neonatal period, or with family related factors.
"Although much of the detail of intensive care has changed in the intervening 12 years since these children were born, we remain concerned about long term problems in very premature children who survive," said Marlow. "Studies designed to work out how to reduce these long term effects are urgently needed."
The next study from this group of researchers will evaluate how many of the behavioural and psychiatric problems can be ascribed to brain injuries still visible on magnetic resonance images.
Other researchers in the study include Richard Cooke, Nicky Botting, and Andrew Powls, of the University of Liverpool. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council.
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