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Early Term Stress May Up Risk of Offspring Psychosis

babyA research study finds that children of women who undergo an extremely stressful event–such as the death of a close relative–during the first trimester of pregnancy, appear more likely to develop schizophrenia.

According to the authors, prior studies have found “severe life events during pregnancy are consistently associated with an elevated risk of low birth weight and prematurity.” However, the new finding runs counter to existing opinion that a mother’s psychological state does not influence her unborn baby’s mental health risk.

The study is published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Schizophrenia, a disabling condition associated with abnormal brain structure and function, is increasingly believed to begin in early brain development. Environmental factors, including those occurring during pregnancy, and susceptibility genes may interact to influence risk.

Ali S. Khashan, M.Sc., of the University of Manchester, England, and colleagues used data from 1.38 million Danish births occurring between 1973 and 1995. Women were linked to close family members using a national registry, and the same registry was used to determine if any of these relatives died or received a diagnosis of cancer, heart attack or stroke during each mother’s pregnancy. Their children were followed from the 10th birthday through June 30, 2005 or until they died, moved out of the country, or developed schizophrenia.

During the study period, mothers of 21,987 children were exposed to the death of a relative during pregnancy, 14,206 were exposed to a relatives’ serious illness during pregnancy and 7,331 of the offspring developed schizophrenia.

The risk of schizophrenia and related disorders was approximately 67 percent greater among the offspring of women who were exposed to the death of a relative during the first trimester.

However, death of a relative up to six months before or any other time during pregnancy was not related to risk for schizophrenia in the child, nor was exposure to serious illness in a relative. The association between a family death and risk of schizophrenia appeared to be significant only for individuals without a family history (parents, grandparents or siblings) of mental illness.

“Risk associated with exposure to a well-defined, objective stressful event confined to the first trimester of pregnancy suggests a number of possible mechanisms,” the authors write.

Chemicals released by the mother’s brain in response to stress may have an effect on the fetus’ developing brain. These effects may be strongest in early pregnancy, when protective barriers between the mother and fetus are not fully constructed.

Source: JAMA and Archives Journal

Early Term Stress May Up Risk of Offspring Psychosis

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Early Term Stress May Up Risk of Offspring Psychosis. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2008/02/05/early-term-stress-may-up-risk-of-offspring-psychosis/1877.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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