Steroids for Preemies May Raise ADHD Risk, Study Says11/22/13
FRIDAY, Nov. 22, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Giving steroid
injections to pregnant women before premature birth may increase
the child's risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity
disorder and other behavioral and emotional disorders, a small
Pregnant women who are expected to give birth prematurely often
receive glucocorticoids, which mimic the natural hormone cortisol.
This treatment is important to help a premature baby's lungs
mature, the researchers explained.
However, their findings suggest that steroid injections may also
increase a child's risk of developing ADHD and other mental health
Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and following
through on tasks. They may also talk excessively and behave
The study included 37 children whose mothers were given
synthetic glucocorticoids before they gave birth and 185 children
who were born at the same gestational age but were not exposed to
At ages 8 and 16, the children who were exposed to
glucocorticoids before birth had poorer scores on general mental
health and were more likely to have symptoms of ADHD, compared to
the other children.
The findings were confirmed in a comparison group of more than
6,000 children, according to the study, published Nov. 22 in the
"There are a lot of studies that have found links between stress in pregnancy and effects on children's mental health, especially ADHD, and this might be related to cortisol," study senior author Alina Rodriguez, a visiting professor at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London in England, said in a college news release.
"Synthetic glucocorticoids mimic the biological reaction when the mother is stressed, so we wanted to see if babies who were exposed to this treatment are affected similarly in terms of mental health outcomes," she explained.
Although the findings suggest that the use of glucocorticoids
may pose long-term risks to children's mental health, they don't
prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The number of children in
the study who were exposed to glucocorticoids was relatively small,
and more studies are needed to confirm the findings, Rodriguez
"We would like to reassure parents that in light of all available evidence to date, the benefits of steroid treatment on immediate infant health and survival are well-established and outweigh any possible risk of long-term behavioral/emotional difficulties," she said. Parents who are concerned that their child might have behavioral or emotional difficulties should contact their child's doctor, she added.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development has more about
preterm labor and birth.
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