A group of Swedish researchers released their new findings in PLOS Medicine showing that pre- and post-term births may be at an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder.
Although the causes of autism remain unknown and are currently the subject of vigorous research, it is theorized that environmental and genetic factors may play a major role.
In the new study, the Swedish research group examined data from a medical registry which included more than 3.5 million children from several European countries. The young participants were followed from birth for a clinical diagnosis of autism.
The data analyzed was dated from 1995 to 2015. Of the total number of children evaluated, 1.44 percent resulted in a diagnosis of autism, and 4.7 percent were associated with birth before 37 weeks of gestation.
According to researchers, the risk of autism only increased for each week of gestational age below or above 40 weeks.
“In the current study, we observed that the relative risk of autism spectrum disorder increased weekly as the date of delivery diverged from 40 weeks, both pre- and postterm, independently of sex and size for gestational age,” the authors explained in their report.
“Given the unknown etiology of autism spectrum disorder and the lifelong consequences of the disorder, identifying groups of increased risk associated with a potentially modifiable risk factor is important.”
“The current study confirms results from prior reports demonstrating higher risk of autism spectrum disorder in children born preterm or postterm,” the authors concluded in their findings.