HealthDay News — People who were born very preterm may be at higher-than-normal risk of anxiety disorders and certain other mental health issues, even into their 30s, a new study suggests.

Those risks, researchers found, appeared particularly elevated among those who had been exposed to prenatal steroid medication.

Corticosteroids are commonly given to pregnant women in danger of preterm delivery, to help speed the baby’s lung development and lower the risk of life-threatening complications.

It’s not clear why the medications were tied to higher odds of mental health problems in adulthood, the study authors said. Only an association between the two was found, not a cause-and-effect link. The researchers stressed that expectant mothers should not be deterred from accepting prenatal steroids.

The findings, published online in Pediatrics, give a picture of how tiny preemies fare as they move through adulthood.

For the study, a team led by Ryan Van Lieshout, MD, PhD, of McMaster Universty in Hamilton, Canada, interviewed 84 adults who were born from 1977 to 1982 at an “extremely low” weight — less than 2 pounds, on average. They were compared with 90 adults the same age, but born at a normal weight.

Overall, the study found, the preterm group was more than twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder, depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The risks were particularly elevated among adults who’d been exposed to prenatal steroids. Their odds of social phobia, for instance, were six times higher, versus the normal birth weight group, while their risk of ADHD was about 10 times higher.


Van Lieshout RJ, et al. Mental Health of Extremely Low Birth Weight Survivors in Their 30s. Pediatrics. 2015; doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-3143.