A big study has actually shown that children of mothers who are anxious during pregnancy and in the very first few years of the kid’s life have two times the danger of having hyperactivity signs at age 16. This work is existing for the very first time at the ECNP Congress in Copenhagen.
Researchers know that foetal and early life conditions can have long-term impact on subsequent health. Now a long-term research study of more than 3000 children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) has actually revealed that maternal anxiety is connected with hyperactivity in their kids, although the link with other ADHD symptoms such inattention is more tenuous.
ALSPAC is a long-term project based in Bristol UK, which enables scientists to track how kids’s health changes over time. The research study taped reported levels of some physical signs of anxiety such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, and sleeping disorders in 8727 moms in the period in between early pregnancy and her child reaching 5 years of age.
The scientists were able to categorize the mothers’ stress and anxiety levels, depending on how often the moms reported indications of physical anxiety. Very broadly, the women fell under low anxiety, medium stress and anxiety, or high stress and anxiety class.
The researchers then examined how kids performed in attention tests (when they reached 8 and a half years of age), and discovered that there was no distinction between children in attention, no matter how distressed the mothers had actually been. However, checking a bigger group of 3199 children at the age of 16 showed that there was a considerable difference in hyperactivity signs, depending on how distressed the mom had been.
On average a child from a mother who had expressed moderate or high stress and anxiety was around two times as most likely to show symptoms of hyperactivity from a mom with low anxiety * Adjusting for social and group aspects showed a comparable correlation **. This means that 11% of the kids from ‘high anxiety” mothers, and 11% of children from “moderate stress and anxiety” mothers revealed signs of hyperactivity. Just 5% of children from ‘” low anxiety” moms revealed hyperactivity signs.
Dr. Blanca Bolea, led the study when she was at the University of Bristol. She is now Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada. She said:
“This is the first time that a study has shown that anxiety is linked to a child’s hyperactivity in later life but that inattention is not linked. One interpretation is that some symptoms of ADHD are associated with the mother’s anxiety, but not all of them. More broadly, it shows that the stresses a mother experiences can show up in her child nearly a generation later; it is worth noting that all the mothers reported an increase in anxiety during pregnancy. Around 28% of the women we tested showed medium or high anxiety. We controlled for hyperactivity in 3199 children in total, and found that 224 children showed signs of hyperactivity, with the rate of hyperactivity being more than doubled if the mother had suffered from medium or high anxiety.”
This is an association, so we can’t 100% say that anxiety signs in pregnancy and early life triggers later hyperactivity, other hereditary, biological or ecological results may be at play. However, this concept is supported by studies in animals. We’re not sure why this might take place. It could be a that the kids are reacting to viewed anxiety in the mother, or it could be that there is some biological result which causes this, for example tension hormones in the placenta having an impact on an establishing brain. ADHD is a questionable disease, and there doesn’t seem to be any single cause, though we understand it can be genetic. This work reveals that maternal anxiety is one factor which is linked to ADHD, however we require some more research to verify this and other causes”
Commenting, Professor Andreas Reif (University Hospital, Frankfurt) said:
“This is a very interesting study, especially given the longitudinal and transgenerational character and its large sample size. As with all studies of this design, one however must be caution not to mix association with causation. As we know that ADHD and anxious traits are correlated on the genetic level (see Demontis and colleagues, 2019), the finding could well be reflective of shared genetic influences. However, it is also important to stress that this study is not on anxiety disorders or ADHD, but rather on traits related to these disorders. For sure these data however further add to emerging picture that ADHD / hyperactivity, anxiety and bipolar disorder (Meier et al., Br J Psychiat 2018) are linked.”