Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Stress during pregnancy linked with schizophrenia in children

Researchers from the University of Manchester have concluded that women who go through extreme stress during the first three months of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies who will have schizophrenia later on in life. The findings were published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, Science Blog reports. Ali Khashan and his colleagues used data from a staggering 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. 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. The authors pointed out that chemicals released by the mother’s brain in response to stress may have affect the fetus’ developing brain. These effects may be strongest in early pregnancy, at a time when protective barriers between the mother and fetus are not yet fully constructed. A previous study had suggested that anxiety in general during pregnancy affects child behaviour. Schizophrenia (pronounced 'skit-suh-free-nee-uh') is a medical condition associated with abnormal brain structure and function and is long believed to begin during early stages of brain development. The term itself was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1908, and comes from the Greek roots schizein ('to split') and phrÄ“n, phren- ('mind'). If you're interested in children's health, you might also want to check out Study: baby products, cosmetics could be linked to reproductive problems.

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