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Study: Prematurity Raises Risks Of Mental Illness

Reuters reports, based on an Archives of General Psychiatry study that analyzed more than a million medical records in Sweden:

Babies born prematurely have a much higher risk of developing severe mental disorders including psychosis, bipolar disorder and depression, according to a study to be published on Monday.

Scientists in Britain and Sweden found that people born very prematurely - at less than 32 weeks' gestation - were three times more likely than those born at term to be hospitalized with a psychiatric illness at aged 16 and older.

The researchers think the increased risk may be down to small but important differences in brain development in babies born before the a full 40 week gestation period.

The numbers on bipolar disorder are particularly striking: a sevenfold increase in risk. As the mother of a son born at 32 weeks, I'm filing this one under "Interesting but do not freak out," and reminding myself that these disorders overall remain relatively rare. And I'm focusing on this quote from Chiara Nosarti of King's College London, the lead researcher:

She stressed, however, that: "The majority of individuals who are born prematurely have no psychiatric or cognitive problems, are absolutely healthy and well functioning."

This program aired on June 1, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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