A new Canadian study has found that extremely low birth weight babies may have a higher risk of psychiatric problems in adulthood than other infants born at normal birth weights.

Low birth weight infants, however, are less likely than others to have alcohol or substance use disorders as adults, say the researchers.

McMaster University scientists also found that extremely low birth weight babies — whose mothers received a full course of steroids prior to giving birth — are at even greater risk for psychiatric disorders.

“Importantly, we have identified psychiatric risks that may develop for extremely low birth weight survivors as they become adults, and this understanding will help us better predict, detect and treat mental disorders in this population,” said Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, lead author of the study.

The research have been published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study involved 84 adults who were born weighing less than 1,000 grams (two pounds, two ounce), and 90 normal birth weight babies. All were born in Ontario between 1977 and 1982.

The research found that in their early 30s, those low birth weight babies were nearly three times less likely to develop an alcohol or substance use disorder.

But, they were two and a half times more likely than adults born normal birth weight to develop a psychiatric problem such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or attentive-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Extremely low birth weight babies — who received a full course of life-saving steroids before birth as part of their treatment — had even higher odds (nearly four and a half times) of those same psychiatric issues, and they were not protected against alcohol or substance use disorders.

Source: McMaster University/Newswise

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