Mental health outcomes of adults born very preterm or with very low birth weight: A systematic review

Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2020 Jun;25(3):101113. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2020.101113. Epub 2020 Apr 28.


Preterm birth research is poised to explore the mental health of adults born very preterm(VP; <32+0 weeks gestational age) and/or very low birth weight(VLBW; <1500g) through individual participant data meta-analyses, but first the previous evidence needs to be understood. We systematically reviewed and assessed the quality of the evidence from VP/VLBW studies with mental health symptoms or disorders appearing in adulthood, excluding childhood onset disorders. Participants (≥18 years, born >1970) included VP/VLBW individuals with controls born at term(≥37+0 weeks) or with normal birth weight(NBW; ≥2500g). Thirteen studies were included. Studies consistently showed an increased risk for psychotropic medication use for VP/VLBW adults in comparison to NBW/term controls, but whether VP/VLBW adults have an increased risk for mental health disorders or symptoms appearing in adulthood remains uncertain. The quality of the evidence was moderate (65.8%) to high (34.2%). Further research in larger samples is needed.

Keywords: Anxiety; Bipolar; Depression; Eating disorder; European Union; Externalizing; Horizon 2020; Internalizing; Mental disorder; PremLife; Premature; Preterm; Psychiatric diagnosis; Psychiatric disorder; RECAP; Review; Schizophrenia; VLBW; Very low birth weight.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Premature*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Risk Factors