Severe prenatal stress may increase schizophrenia risk in offspring

February 5th, 2008 - 1:26 pm ICT by admin  


Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): Women who undergo an extremely stressful event, such as the death of a close relative, during the early months of their pregnancy are more likely to have children who develop schizophrenia, says a new study.

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.

The common conception that a mothers psychological state can influence her unborn baby is to some extent substantiated by the literature, the authors said.

Severe life events during pregnancy are consistently associated with an elevated risk of low birth weight and prematurity, they added.

In the study the researchers used data from 1.38 million Danish births occurring between 1973 and 1995.

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.

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 said.

Chemicals released by the mothers 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.

The study is published in Archives of General Psychiatry. (ANI)

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