Placental inflammation during pregnancy may increase the likelihood of a child receiving a later diagnosis of autism or another developmental or psychiatric condition, according to a study by U.S. researchers.

Using records spanning a 19-year period at a women’s hospital, Blake Gibson and colleagues identified 4,851 children born with placentas meeting criteria for placental inflammation (also called fetal inflammatory syndrome, or FIRS). In addition, they identified 31,927 controls born with normal placentas during the same period.

prenatal care autism

The researchers report that children born with placentas meeting criteria for FIRS were significantly more likely than controls to receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition, they were more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The findings remained significant after adjusting for a variety of factors including a maternal history of psychiatric disorder or substance use and maternal prescriptions for anti-inflammatory drugs.

The researchers conclude, “This study has potential implications for clinical care and prevention approaches. Children born with placenta meeting criteria for FIRS should be monitored closely for early identification and treatment.”

“Fetal inflammatory response and risk for psychiatric disorders,” Blake Gibson, Eli Goodfriend, Yongqi Zhong, and Nadine M. Melhem, Translational Psychiatry, June 24, 2023 (free online). Address: Nadine M. Melhem, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, [email protected]

This article originally appeared in Autism Research Review International, Vol. 37, No. 3, 2023

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