Premature Babies at Risk for Psychiatric Disorders

Neonatal ultrasound enables early detection of mental health issues

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Babies who are born prematurely are at higher risk for many medical problems, including brain injuries. And when infants are born with brain injuries, it puts them at higher risk for developing psychiatric disorders in adolescence.

Fortunately, certain forms of these brain injuries and possible future psychiatric disorders can be detected with a neonatal ultrasound. This can mean earlier diagnosis and intervention by pediatricians, neurologists and other physicians who care for these children early in life.

"Ask about neonatal brain scan if your baby is born prematurely."

With premature birth a growing problem in the United States, the ability to detect these injuries and predisposition to disorders is vital.

Research led by Dr. Agnes Whitaker at Columbia University Medical Center followed 458 infants from birth to age 16, and found that those with abnormalities in their neonatal ultrasound were at increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity, tic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and major depression. These children were nondisabled and had abnormal brain ultrasounds at birth.

Through questionnaires and cognitive tests of both the children at adolescence and parent interviews, the researchers found a relationship between perinatal brain injuries and certain psychiatric disorders that could not be explained by other medical or social factors.

Scientists have suspected the link between brain injury at birth and long-term psychiatric effects, but this research provides the first strong empirical evidence of the relationship.

Dr. Whitaker says, “The study is a beautiful example of interdisciplinary work. The team included researchers from neonatology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and epidemiology. It couldn’t have been done otherwise.”

Research findings were published in the July 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 27, 2011
Last Updated:
July 28, 2011