Recent Study Finds Link Between Brain Injuries in Premature Babies and Mental Illness
Medical science has come a long way in improving care for babies born prematurely. Thanks to advances in medical technology, most babies born after 24 weeks of gestation are now able to survive if they are given proper care. But despite all the progress that has been made, one simple fact remains: the bodies of babies born prematurely (prior to 37 weeks of gestation) are not as developed as the bodies of full-term babies.
Since the bodies of premature babies are so fragile, they’re very vulnerable to birth injuries. Most babies born prematurely don’t have any complications or long-term health problems, but that’s not always the case. Premature birth can have many different effects, such as vision impairment, hearing loss, and respiratory difficulties. But brain injuries are particularly common and a new study has found a link between premature babies born with small brain injuries and mental illness later in life.
In November 2017, New King’s College published research which found that adults who were born prematurely and suffered small brain injuries around the time of birth often have lowered levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter connected to learning and personal enjoyment, so low dopamine levels have been linked to a lack of motivation, changes in attention and focus, and a lack of enjoyment in day-to-day life, all of which can be early indicators of depression or substance dependence.
In this study, they compared three different groups: adults born prematurely who had suffered brain injuries at birth, adults born prematurely without injury, and adults who were born at term. While they found that most of the adults who were born prematurely had perfectly normal levels of dopamine, those who experienced a brain injury around the time of birth were more likely to have lower dopamine levels.
Determining the exact causes of mental illness is extremely complicated, but Dr. Sean Froudist-Walsh, the study’s first author, stated, “People have hypothesized for over 100 years that certain mental illnesses could be related to problems in early brain development. Studies using animal models have shown us how early brain damage and mental illness could be linked, but these theories had not been tested in experiments with humans.” He added, “This could be important to how we think about treating people who suffered early brain damage and develop mental illness. I hope this will motivate scientists, doctors, and policymakers to pay more attention to problems around birth and how they can affect the brain in the long term.”
Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand the the full extent of a birth injury right away. In many cases, it can take years for the effects or symptoms of an injury to show and this study is a very good example of that. If your child suffered an injury at birth and you suspect they may be showing symptoms of a larger issue as a result of it, contact a birth trauma lawyer as soon as possible. Even if it’s been years since your child was born, talking to a lawyer can help answer your questions and help you understand what your legal options are.