Children of anxious mothers twice as likely to be hyperactive in teens
Teenagers are twice as likely to be hyperactive if their mothers were anxious during pregnancy and their early years, a new study has shown.
While around five per cent of youngsters usually experience some symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by the age of 16, the number jumped to 11 per cent of those whose mothers suffered anxiety.
Although some anxiety is natural during pregnancy and the early years of motherhood, the researchers measured extreme symptoms such as trembling, insomnia, dizziness and sweating.
Researchers say they cannot be sure of a causal link, but have speculated that high levels of stress hormones may have an impact on brain development.
Dr Blanca Bolea, of the University of Toronto in Canada, who conducted the study when at the University of Bristol, said: “This is the first time that a study has shown that anxiety is linked to a child’s hyperactivity in later life
“More broadly, it shows that the stresses a mother experiences can show up in her child nearly a generation later
“We’re not sure why this might happen. It could be that the children are responding to perceived anxiety in the mother, or it could be that there is some biological effect which causes this, for example stress hormones in the placenta having an effect on a developing brain.
“This work shows that maternal anxiety is one factor which is linked to ADHD, but we need some more research to confirm this and other causes.”
The new research involved 3000 British children enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a long-term project based in Bristol which tracks the health of youngsters over time.
The researchers also checked how children performed in attention tests when they reached 8 and a half years of age, but found that there was no difference between children in attention, no matter how anxious the mothers had been.
However, by the age of 16 there was a significant difference in hyperactivity symptoms, depending on how anxious the mother had been.
The results were presented at the European Conference of Neuropharmacology (ECNP) in Copenhagen.
Commenting on the research Professor Andreas Reif, Chair of the Scientific Programme Committee for ECNP said there may also be a genetic link between anxious mothers and hyperactive children.
“ADHD and anxious traits are correlated on the genetic level and this could well be reflective of shared genetic influences,” said Prof Reif.
“For sure these data however further add to the emerging picture that ADHD/hyperactivity, anxiety and bipolar disorder are linked.”