ADELAIDE, Australia — ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has become a common diagnosis these days among children. More than six million American youths between the ages of 4-17 have been diagnosed with the disorder, along with an estimated one in 20 Australian citizens. The exact cause of the condition is still up for debate, and research has linked its origins to various factors such as family genes, premature birth, and exposure to harmful substances like alcohol while still in the womb. Now, researchers from the University of Southern Australia have found that young mothers under the age of 20 face greater odds of having a child with ADHD.
The study’s authors set out to investigate the genetic relationship between maternal reproductive traits and common psychiatric disorders. They discovered that the genetic risk of ADHD in children is strongly associated with the mother being of a young age at the time she gives birth to her first born, especially for women younger than 20.
For reference, ADHD is classified as an intricate neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by an inability to focus and concentrate, impulsive actions, and hyperactive behavior.
The research team used genetic data originally collected by the U.K. biobank, a major long-term study focusing on the relationship between genetics, environment, and subsequent disease development. In all, data on 220,685 women was analyzed. Researchers investigated the genetic correlations between five female reproductive traits (age at first sexual intercourse, age at first birth, age at first menstruation cycle, age at onset of menopause, and number of live child births) and six psychiatric disorders (depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, and autism).
Associate professor Hong Lee, one of the study’s authors, is hopeful that this research will help better educate young women and mothers all over the world, and ultimately lead to better health outcomes for their children.
“Young mums can have it tough, especially as they’re adjusting to becoming a parent while they’re still young themselves,” Lee says in a release. “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. 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.”
“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,” Lee continues. “ADHD is treatable, but early diagnosis and interventions are key to a successful outcome.”
However, Lee also made a point to note that ADHD is a complex disorder and additional research is still needed in order to fully understand its genetic and environmental causes.
“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. 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,” Lee concludes. “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.”
The study is published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.