September 23, 2019
1 min read

Prenatal stress increases likelihood of personality disorder in offspring

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Longitudinal study data indicated that children exposed to maternal stress throughout gestation were three times more likely to develop a personality disorder, even after adjusting for other psychiatric disorders

Personality disorders are often comorbid with other psychiatric disorders, Ross Brannigan, PhD candidate in the department of psychology at Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, and colleagues wrote in British Journal of Psychiatry

“Given the lack of specificity in many risk factors (such as prenatal stress exposure) for psychiatric illness, it is plausible that personality disorders share risk factors with other psychiatric disorders,” they wrote. “It is important for intervention and prevention strategies in mental illness to know the shared and unique factors that contribute to the risk of developing different outcomes.”

Using data from Finnish registries, Brannigan and colleagues investigated potential associations between prenatal stress exposure and personality disorder in offspring. To determine stress during pregnancy, mothers completed a questionnaire before each monthly antenatal clinic appointment, which asked about subjective stress, subjective feelings of depression, smoking and physical health.

Of 3,626 offspring, 40 developed a personality disorder.

The researchers reported that children exposed to any maternal stress during gestation had three times the risk of developing a personality disorder (OR = 3.28; 95% CI, 1.75-6.15) compared with those unexposed after adjusting for parental psychiatric history, comorbid psychiatric diagnoses, prenatal smoking and antenatal depression. While offspring exposed to moderate stress were three times more likely to develop a personality disorder (OR = 3.13; 95% CI, 1.42-6.88), those exposed to severe stress were seven times more likely (OR = 7.02; 95% CI, 2.08-23.66).

More research is needed to confirm our conclusions and to investigate potential mechanisms involved in the association,” Brannigan and colleagues wrote. “The next step in this area of research could involve examinations into whether interventions during pregnancy can reduce the adverse effects of stress. Some pilot work has shown that intervention during pregnancy can reduce the experience of stress and anxiety.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.