- Medical news & Guidelines
- Cardiology and CTVS
- Critical Care
- Diabetes and Endocrinology
- Laboratory Medicine
- Health news
- State News
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- Andhra Pradesh
- Arunachal Pradesh
- Dadra and Nagar Haveli
- Daman and Diu
- Himachal Pradesh
- Jammu & Kashmir
- Madhya Pradesh
- Tamil Nadu
- Uttar Pradesh
- West Bengal
- Medical Education
Infants born prematurely may get poorer school grades during adolescence: BMJ
Norway: Infants born prematurely before 34 weeks of pregnancy showed substantial deficits in multiple cognitive domains as a teenager, a large Danish population study published in The BMJ. In contrast, cognitive outcomes during adolescence did not differ between those born at 34-39 gestational weeks and those born at 40 gestational weeks. The study found that premature birth, before...
Norway: Infants born prematurely before 34 weeks of pregnancy showed substantial deficits in multiple cognitive domains as a teenager, a large Danish population study published in The BMJ.
In contrast, cognitive outcomes during adolescence did not differ between those born at 34-39 gestational weeks and those born at 40 gestational weeks.
The study found that premature birth, before 34 weeks of pregnancy, is linked to lower scores in maths and language tests as a teenager compared with those born at 40 weeks. The researchers found no substantial difference in later brain (cognitive) function in babies born between 34-39 weeks and those born at 40 weeks. And the researchers acknowledge that cognitive outcomes are not predetermined at birth but are heavily influenced by social circumstances.
It is estimated that around 15 million infants are born preterm, before 37 weeks of pregnancy, worldwide each year. The final weeks of pregnancy are significant for fetal brain development, and preterm and early-term birth are thought to have a negative impact on later brain function.
However, previous studies have been relatively small, primarily limited to one measure, or didn’t sufficiently adjust for other factors that could have influenced the results.
To more accurately determine the impact of gestational age-duration of pregnancy in weeks-at birth on long-term cognitive function, the researchers analysed data for all full siblings born in Denmark from 1 January 1986 to 31 December 2003.
A total of 1.2 million children were born in this period, of whom 792,724 had at least one full sibling born in the same period, which allowed the researchers to take into account hereditary factors such as maternal intelligence.
Using nationwide registry information, the researchers analysed gestational age at birth, along with their exam results in written Danish language and maths at age 15-16, and separately, the results of intelligence tests taken by 227,403 brothers aged around 18, at mandatory military conscription.
Potentially influential factors, including sex, birth weight, parental age and educational level at birth, number of older siblings, and shared family factors between siblings were also taken into account in the analysis.
The researchers calculated how far an exam result was above or below the average grade, and compared this score for siblings at each gestational age to the score for siblings born at term.
Overall, 44,322 (5.6%) of the 792,724 children were born before 37 weeks. Of these, only those born before 34 weeks had significantly lower than average maths scores than those born at 40 weeks, and grades progressively decreased with increasing prematurity.
For written language, however, only children born at or less than 27 weeks showed a significantly lower than average grade.
Analysis of military conscription intelligence test scores, measured in IQ points, also showed markedly lower test scores for those born before 34 weeks.
For those born after 34 weeks, there was a less than 1 point reduction in IQ, compared with those born at 40 weeks. But there was a 2.4 point IQ reduction for those born between 32-33 weeks, a 3.8 point reduction for 28-31 weeks, and a 4.2 point reduction for those born at or before 27 weeks.
This is an observational study so can’t establish cause and the researchers also acknowledge some limitations. For instance, smoking during pregnancy was not recorded before 1991, and test results may differ from real-life outcomes such as lifetime income.
But they say the study has the advantage of a large sample size and their sibling comparison design most likely accounts for other factors such as maternal smoking. Results were also similar after further analyses, such as including children who did not take exams, suggesting that the findings withstand scrutiny.
While the underlying reasons for these findings are still unclear, the researchers suggest that as low cognitive ability is linked to decreased quality of life and early death, their findings “stress the need for more research into how these adverse outcomes can be prevented.”
They add: “Cognitive outcomes are not, however, predetermined at birth but are heavily influenced by social circumstances and nurturing, and this is why early intervention is warranted for children born early preterm.”
In a linked editorial, Canadian researchers acknowledge that cognitive deficits in early life could have a lifelong influence on a person’s capacity and capabilities.
However, they say that although parents and clinicians should be aware of potential educational and cognitive difficulties associated with preterm birth, “parents should be reassured that the magnitude of these differences is not always substantial, particularly for those born at later gestations.”
And they suggest that sibling comparisons have caveats and that since the causes of preterm birth are complex and poorly understood, “efforts to identify and improve on other socio-environmental factors could be a more successful approach to mitigating any associated neurocognitive deficits.”
Anders Husby, Jan Wohlfahrt, Mads Melby Gestational age at birth and cognitive outcomes in adolescence: population based full sibling cohort study BMJ 2023; 380 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2022-072779
Dr Kamal Kant Kohli-MBBS, DTCD- a chest specialist with more than 30 years of practice and a flair for writing clinical articles, Dr Kamal Kant Kohli joined Medical Dialogues as a Chief Editor of Medical News. Besides writing articles, as an editor, he proofreads and verifies all the medical content published on Medical Dialogues including those coming from journals, studies,medical conferences,guidelines etc. Before Joining Medical Dialogues, he has served at important positions in the medical industry in India including as the Hony. Secretary of the Delhi Medical Association as well as the chairman of Anti-Quackery Committee in Delhi and worked with other Medical Councils in India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact no. 011-43720751