November 25, 2013
1 min read

Steroid injections for premature infants increased risk for ADHD

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

Prenatal delivery of synthetic glucocorticoids increased the risk of psychiatric disturbance and inattention at age 8 years, according to data in a recently released study.

“There are a lot of studies that have found links between stress in pregnancy and effects on children’s mental health, especially [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], and this might be related to cortisol,” Alina Rodriguez, PhD, visiting professor at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said in a press release. “Synthetic glucocorticoids mimic the biological reaction when the mother is stressed, so we wanted to see if babies who were exposed to this treatment are affected similarly in terms of mental health outcomes.”

Using the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986, Rodriguez and colleagues studied 37 children who received synthetic glucocorticoids in utero and compared them with 185 children born at the same gestational age without assistance of glucocorticoids. In addition, researchers examined a larger group of 6,079 children matched for pregnancy and infant characteristics.

The researchers examined all children at 8 years via their teachers using the Rutter B2 scale and again at 16 years via their parents using the Strengths and Weaknesses of ADHD symptoms and Normal behavior (SWAN) scale and by the adolescents themselves using the Youth Self-Report scale.

At 8 years, prenatal synthetic glucocorticoids were linked to general psychiatric disturbance and inattention. Similar results were seen at 16 years, although it did not reach significance.

“This study suggests there may also be long-term risks for the child’s mental health. Although this is the largest study so far to look at these risks, the number of children in our group who were exposed to glucocorticoids was still relatively small. More studies will be needed to confirm the findings,” Rodriguez said. “We would like to reassure parents that in light of all available evidence to date, the benefits of steroid treatment on immediate infant health and survival are well-established and outweigh any possible risk of long-term behavioral/emotional difficulties.”

Disclosure: This research was funded by the Academy of Finland; Sigrid Juselius Foundation, Finland; Thule Institute, University of Oulu, Finland; the National Institute of Mental Health; and EURO-BLCS. Rodriguez received funding partly from FAS (Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research).