Scientists at the University of South Australia (UniSA) have investigated the relationship between children born with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and female reproductive traits. They have discovered that the risk of developing ADHD is strongly linked to young maternal age during the first birth, and is especially pronounced in women under 20 years old. The findings have been published in Scientific Reports.
"Young mums can have it tough, especially as they're adjusting to becoming a parent while they're still young themselves," said Associate Professor Hong Lee, a UniSA researcher. "By understanding the links between becoming a mother at a young age and having a child with ADHD, we're able to better educate and support families sooner."
ADHD is a complex disorder that arises as children develop. The neurodevelopmental condition makes it hard for people to concentrate or control their impulses and emotions and can make them hyperactive. Affected individuals may seem not to listen when they're being directly spoken to, they may overlook details or make careless mistakes and have a hard time with tasks that require sustained focus, like completing forms, for example. ADHD symptoms usually start in childhood, but it doesn't not only affect children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
In Australia, the disease is thought to impact one in 20 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 6.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with ADHD.
In this work, the researchers wanted to know more about how genetics may play a role in the disorder. They used data from the UK Biobank, which contains genetic information from 220,685 women, to examine the correlation between six common psychiatric disorders (eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and ADHD) and five reproductive traits in women (their age at first menstruation, first birth, sexual experience, and menopause, as well as the number of children they delivered). Their work revealed that young mothers are more likely to have children with ADHD.
The researchers are hopeful that the study can help educate women about the risks.
Learn more about ADHD from the video above.
"The approach is twofold. Firstly, we're able to inform young women about the high genetic risk of having a child with ADHD if they give birth at a young age. This may caution and prevent them from giving birth at an immature age, which not only improves their reproductive health but also the maternal environment for their baby," explained Lee.
"Secondly, we're able to educate young mothers about the features of ADHD, such as impulsivity and inattentive behaviors, which may help mothers better recognize the condition in their child and seek treatment sooner than later. ADHD is treatable, but early diagnosis and interventions are key to a successful outcome."
There is, of course, still a lot we don't know about how the disorder arises.
"It's important to understand that while there is a clear genetic link between ADHD and young mothers, this is not necessarily a causal relationship," noted Lee. "ADHD is a highly heritable disorder which means that a young mother may also have the genes affecting ADHD risk which is then inherited by her child.
"Knowing a woman has a genetic predisposition for ADHD can be recorded in her family medical history then used to monitor her health and the health of her offspring. In this way, we're able to ensure both mother and baby receive the support and help they need."