Background: Perinatal problems may be associated with an increased risk for psychological and physical health problems in adulthood, although it is unclear which perinatal problems (low birthweight, preterm birth, low Apgar scores, and small head circumference), or what clusters of problems, are more likely to be associated with later health problems. It is also not known whether perinatal problems (singly or together) are associated with co-morbidity between psychological and physical health problems.
Method: A regional random sample (from Baltimore) of mothers and their children (n=1525) was followed from birth to adulthood (mean age 29 years). Perinatal conditions were measured at delivery. Psychological problems (depression and suicidal ideation) were measured with the General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ-28) and physical problems (asthma and hypertension) with the RAND-36 Health Status Inventory.
Results: Children with perinatal problems were generally at increased risk for depression, suicidal ideation and hypertension, and co-morbid depression and hypertension even after controlling for confounders. One possible underlying condition, preterm low birthweight (LBW), extracted by cluster analysis, considering all of the four perinatal problems, was associated with increased risk for psychological and physical health outcomes as well as co-morbidity of the two.
Conclusions: LBW, preterm birth and small head circumference singly increased the risk for both psychological and physical health problems, as well as co-morbid depression and hypertension, while low Apgar scores were only associated with psychological problems. Delineating different etiological processes, such as preterm LBW, considering various perinatal problems simultaneously, might be of benefit to understanding the fetal origin of adult illness and co-morbidity.