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Prenatal glucocorticoid treatment and later mental health in children and adolescents. The Lancet. Table of Contents View All. Table of Contents. Uses of Steroid Injections. Why It's Important. How Antenatal Steroids Work. Possible Side Effects. The Bottom Line. Pre-Term Birth Facts and Statistics. Vaccines in Premature Babies. Caring for Your Preemie at Home. Was this page helpful?
Thanks for your feedback! Sign Up. What are your concerns? Lung problems are common in premature babies, and can cause life-threatening breathing difficulties. Synthetic glucocorticoids, which replicate the effects of natural cortisol, are given in anticipation of preterm birth to reduce the risk of these problems. There has been some concern that exposure to high levels of glucocorticoids in the womb might have harmful long-term effects on brain development.
Scientists have previously established a link between stress in pregnancy and symptoms of ADHD in children. As cortisol is produced as a response to stress, it has been suggested that cortisol may be responsible for this link. The researchers studied 37 children who were exposed to synthetic glucocorticoids before birth and compared them to children who were born at the same gestational age but did not have glucocorticoid treatment.
A much larger comparison group of children, matched carefully on pregnancy and infant characteristics, was also examined to confirm the findings. The children who had the treatment had poorer scores on general mental health at ages eight and 16, and were more likely to show symptoms of ADHD. 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. Parents who are concerned that their child may be affected by behavioural or emotional difficulties should in the first instance contact their GP for advice. The participants were part of the Northern Finland Birth Cohort, a study that recruited women in early pregnancy in and gathered information about the health of the children at age eight and