Flu during pregnancy may increase risk of bipolar disorder in children

It is not uncanny for a woman to get ill during her pregnancy. She might get fever, flu, stomach ache, laryngitis, etc. like any other normal person. With changing seasons and weather conditions, anyone can suffer from flu and fever. However, a woman suffering from flu during her pregnancy has four times higher chance of having children with bipolar disorder, according to a recent study.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is an extension of previous studies which have found a link between schizophrenia in children and flu in their mothers during pregnancy.

Prospective mothers should get flu shots as preventive measure

Lead researcher Alan Brown, M.D., M.P.H, of the Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said, “Prospective mothers should take common sense preventive measures, such as getting flu shots prior to and in the early stages of pregnancy, and avoiding contact with people who are symptomatic. In spite of public health recommendations, only a relatively small fraction of such women get immunized. The weight of evidence now suggests that benefits of the vaccine likely outweigh any possible risk to the mother or newborn.”

During the course of the study, 92 children, born between 1959 and 1966, who developed bipolar disorder, were analyzed. Using physician-based diagnoses and structured standardized psychiatric measures, the researchers performed the trials by observing different families. They compared rates of maternal flu with 722 matched controls.

Maternal flu during second or third semester of pregnancy heightens risk

They found that children were four times more prone to develop bipolar disorder if the mothers suffered from flu during pregnancy. Moreover, the risk for developing the disorder increases if the mother suffers from flu during the second or third semesters of pregnancy.

One of the previous researches done by Brown also found an increased risk for schizophrenia in children if the mother had flu during pregnancy. In fact, autism has also been linked to first trimester viral infections.

Brown said, “Future research might investigate whether this same environmental risk factor might give rise to different disorders, depending on how the timing of the prenatal insult affects the developing fetal brain.”

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia show similar characteristics; symptoms which occur during the onset of early adulthood are somewhat similar in both the disorders, including inheritance from family and genetic influence.

However, further studies with large sample sizes will be required to understand the relation between the occurrence of flu during pregnancy and bipolar disorder in children. Moreover, it is also important to determine the true cause-and-effect relationship and why many women develop influenza before and during pregnancy, yet only a very small number of their children develop bipolar disorder later in life.

Corrective measures

The researchers have proposed that preventive measures should be taken by an expectant mother and her family to limit the occurrence of such disorders in children. For example, pre-pregnancy vaccination against influenza can help reduce the rate of influenza in mothers/prospective mothers. During pregnancy, women should avoid coming in contact with people who are suffering from cold, cough or flu and other related respiratory problems.

However, if you or your child is showing signs of bipolar disorder or any other mental health illnesses, seek immediate medical help. The 24/7 Mental Health Helpline can help you find effective treatments which can help you get back your psychological and emotional well-being. You may call our 24/7 helpline number at 855-653-8178 or chat online to know about various mental health rehabilitation centers.