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As per a new study, steroids that are administered to pregnant woman right before premature birth may cause an increase in the risk of emotional and behavioural problems in the child.

A dose of glucocorticoids is administered regularly to mothers who are expected to give premature births. This is meant to mature the lungs but large amounts of glucocorticoids in the womb can have long-term harmful effects on the brain.

Earlier, researchers have noticed an evident connect between symptoms of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and stress during pregnancy. As a response to stress, cortisol is produced and some researchers pointed out that this may be responsible for the connection between the two.

To perform this study, the University of Oulu in Finland and Imperial College London picked 37 children whose mothers got dosage of glucocorticoid before delivery and studied them in comparison to 185 children who took birth around the same gestation age but did not have any exposure to glucocorticoid.

The researchers examined about 6,079 children to confirm the results. These children belonged to the Northern Finland Birth Cohort, a case study that recruited mothers in the early pregnancy stages, during the years 1985 and 1986. They then gathered information about the children’s health when they turned 8 to 16 years old.

The results of the research study indicated that children who had glucocorticoids treatment had poorer general mental health and were prone to exhibit ADHD symptoms. A visiting professor at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London and a senior author of the research, Alina Rodriguez, Ph.D. stated – “There are a lot of studies that have found links between stress in pregnancy and effects on children’s mental health, especially ADHD, and this might be related to cortisol, 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.”

She further mentioned that her research also points out the precarious state of the long term risks of the child’s mental health. Rodriguez further added – “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.”

She quickly assured parents by saying – “in lights 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 behavioural or emotional difficulties. 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.”

So, this should certainly come out as an eye opener to pregnant women who’re taking steroid even during the pregnancy phase!

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