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Risk of schizophrenia increases after childhood and adolescent psychiatric disorders

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Cecilie Maibing, MD Student, Mental Haelth Centre Copenhagen, Bispebjerg

An increasing number of children and adolescents are being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders; however, no previous studies have been investigating if these individuals are in risk of developing severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia later in life.  

Therefore, a group of researchers located at the Mental Health Centre Copenhagen and Center for Register based Research in Aarhus studied the possible association with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and a previous diagnosis with eight groups of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, autism, and affective disorders.

Surprisingly, all of the child and adolescent psychiatric disorders significantly increased the risk for the individual to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, and the risk was particularly increased in the short term but also in the long term. The researchers had expected this increase to be apparent after ADHD and autism spectrum disorders, which has previously been shown in smaller studies and case reports. However, the risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders more than five years after being diagnosed with a child and adolescent psychiatric disorder was increased almost 5 times for most of the studied child and adolescent psychiatric disorders compared to the background population.

The study population consisted of more than 25,000 individuals diagnosed with a child and adolescent psychiatric disorder out of which more than 1,200 individuals within this group were later diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder. These results confirm the findings of earlier smaller studies, displaying associations between child and adolescent psychiatric disorders with a later diagnosis of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

There might be several explanations for the observed association including overlapping risk factors such as shared genetics, schizophrenia symptoms mimicking child and adolescent psychiatric disorders, or that the pathway towards schizophrenia in some cases goes through child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. However, from this current study it is not possible to determine which factors are responsible for the observed increase.

More research in this area is needed to reveal more about the pathways from child and adolescent psychiatric disorders towards schizophrenia.

Facts about the study

  • The study uses data from the Danish nationwide registers, including information on psychiatric disorders, sociodemographic variables, and much more, creating a unique cohort
  • The study is the largest of its kind so far, following 25,138 individuals diagnosed with a child and adolescent psychiatric disorder
  • The cohort consists of all persons born 1990-2000, follow-up ends 31st of December 2012
  • The study reveals a significant increase in the number of persons diagnosed with schizophrenia after a previous child and adolescent psychiatric disorder

The article “Risk of Schizophrenia Increases After All Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Disorders: A Nationwide Study” was published in Schizophrenia Bulletin. 2014 Sept 4 [Epub ahead of print].

Further information

Cecilie Frejstrup Maibing, MD Student, Mental Health Centre Copenhagen, Bispebjerg ceciliemaibing@gmail.com

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