Early Pregnancy Stress Linked to Kids' Schizophrenia Risk

February 5, 2008

Children born to mothers who experience stress due to the death of a relative during the first trimester of pregnancy may later face an increased risk of schizophrenia, according to research published in the February issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

TUESDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Children born to mothers who experience stress due to the death of a relative during the first trimester of pregnancy may later face an increased risk of schizophrenia, according to research published in the February issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Ali S. Khashan, of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed data from 1.38 million births in Denmark from 1973 to 1995. Using national registries, researchers assessed whether pregnant women's close family members died or were diagnosed with cancer, heart attack or stroke up to six months before conception or during the pregnancy. They then examined data related to schizophrenia diagnoses in offspring from their 10th birthday through June 2005.

The death of a close relative during the first trimester was associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia in the offspring (adjusted relative risk 1.67). Deaths before pregnancy or during other trimesters weren't related to higher risk, nor were illness diagnoses in relatives.

"Our population-based study indicates that severe stress to a mother in the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia in the offspring," the authors write. "This finding is consistent with other evidence from whole populations exposed to severe stressors but requires replication in larger samples to allow examination of, for example, sex differences."

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