Steroid injections given to prevent premature delivery in pregnant women at risk for early labor may put the baby at risk for behavioral and emotional problems later in life, a new study suggests.
Pregnant women at risk for premature birth are routinely given an infusion of glucocorticoids, a steroid that mimics the natural hormone cortisol. The drug is designed to help the baby’s lungs develop. However, new research shows that high levels of glucocorticoids may have a long-term adverse effect on the brain’s development.
Previous studies have already made a connection between stress during pregnancy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Since cortisol is produced in response to stress, researchers have speculated that there was a link between the hormone and ADHD symptoms in children.
The new study involved 37 children who were exposed to glucocorticoids before birth and 185 children born at the same gestational age but who were not exposed to the hormone in utero. Researchers found that children exposed to the hormone tested lower on general mental health exams at ages 8 and 16, and were also more likely to exhibit symptoms of ADHD.
Researchers say the study is too small to establish a solid link between behavior problems and glucocorticoids. The study’s authors advise parents to contact their doctors if they are concerned that their child’s behavioral or emotional health may be adversely affected by exposure to the hormone prior to birth.