February 13, 2022
Spontaneous abortion is the medical term used for what is more commonly known as miscarriage. It means the unintended loss of an embryo or fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy. This must not be confused in any way with induced abortion, which is a deliberate and intentional act to terminate a pregnancy.
Most miscarriages occur when the fetus is not developing properly. Among the major causes of miscarriage are chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects, abnormal hormonal imbalances, infections, and exposure to toxins.
A team of Chinese researchers used the Danish national registers to explore a nationwide cohort for associations between previous miscarriage and ADHD in subsequent offspring. They included all 1.1 million births in Denmark over the 17 years from 1995 through 2012. They excluded all children with chromosomal abnormalities, those born either extremely early (after less than 22 weeks gestation) or extremely late (greater than 45 weeks), and those for whom this information was missing. That left over one million children in the study cohort.
The team classified children as having ADHD either based on a recorded hospital diagnosis or after receiving ADHD medication prescriptions at least twice after the age of 3 years. A total of 25,747 children were identified as ADHD individuals (554 mothers having at least two miscarriages, 3,087 mothers having one miscarriage, and 22,106 mothers without miscarriage). The average age of the first ADHD diagnosis was 10 years.
Just over 130,000 children (12.2%) were born to mothers who had at least one miscarriage. Of these, just under 113,000 (10.6%) were born to mothers with a single miscarriage before birth, and just over 17,000 to mothers with more than one prior miscarriage.
Based on previous research, the team identified potential confounders, including sex, preterm birth (less than 37 weeks), low birth weight, small for gestational age, low Agar score (performed right after birth to assess the risk of infant mortality), maternal and paternal ages at birth, maternal diabetes, maternal hypothyroidism, maternal smoking during pregnancy, maternal education level, maternal and paternal psychiatric disorders before birth.
After adjusting for these possible confounders, children of mothers with a single prior miscarriage were 9% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers without any miscarriage. Children of mothers with two or more prior miscarriages were 22% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This upward exposure-response trend was statistically significant.
Preterm birth was found to be the strongest confounding mediator of this trend but accounted for under 4% of the association. The authors concluded, "the observed associations were independent of several factors, such as maternal socioeconomic status, type of spontaneous abortion, parental history of psychiatric disorders, pregnancy characteristics (maternal smoking status, infection, diabetes and hypothyroidism status during pregnancy)and birth outcomes (low birth weight, preterm birth, low Agar score, and small for gestational age)."
They also noted that given the frequency of miscarriages, affecting more than one in eight women, "a small increase of neurodevelopmental problems in offspring could have major public health implications."
Hui Wang, Fei Li, Maohua Miao, Yongfu Yu, Honglei Ji, HuiLiu, Rong Huang, Carsten Obel, Jun Zhang, and Jiong Li, "Maternal spontaneous abortion and the risk of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in offspring: a population-based cohort study", Human Reproduction(2020), vol. 35, no. 5, 1211-1221,https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deaa035.