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Premature birth not linked to autism, study shows

By Carole Tanzer Miller, HealthDay News
A single obstetric factor is unlikely to be the cause of autism spectrum disorder, a new study found. Photo by ivabalk/Pixabay
A single obstetric factor is unlikely to be the cause of autism spectrum disorder, a new study found. Photo by ivabalk/Pixabay

There is no significant link between premature birth and autism, new research out of Israel suggests.

Findings from the study of more than 100,000 deliveries were presented Tuesday at a meeting of the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine in National Harbor, Md.

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A summary of the findings was simultaneously published in a supplement to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"The exact cause of autism is complex," said lead author Dr. Sapir Ellouk, a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at Soroka Medical Center's Saban Maternity and Birthing Center in Beer-Sheva, HaDarom, Israel. "But based on our data, a single obstetric factor is unlikely to be the cause of ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."

Research into what causes autism is controversial, particularly the possible link to preterm birth.

Ellouk's team analyzed records from hospitals and community clinics for nearly 115,000 deliveries in Israel between 2005 and 2017. The data included Jews, Muslims and Bedouins, a minority group that leads a nomadic or semi-nomadic life.

Of those pregnancies, 93.1% were delivered at term (37 weeks or more).

While researchers initially found a link between preterm delivery and autism (up to 1.6% for extremely preterm infants), after considering other factors that could be involved -- such as ethnicity, maternal age, and the infant's gender and size for its gestational age -- the link vanished.

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Instead of one factor being the cause, Ellouk said in a meeting news release, "a more plausible theory involves the simultaneous presence of multiple factors."

In the United States, 1 child in 36 is diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, autism is one of the most common developmental disorders, affecting an estimated 1 in 100 children.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more research into preterm birth and autism risk.

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