+ Low Birth Weight May Increase Autism Risk in Girls

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This is Elizabeth Lopatto’s article on Bloomberg.com

June 2 (Bloomberg) — Autism strikes low birth weight baby girls at a higher rate than similar-sized boys when the infants are compared with larger children, according to a study that suggests risk factors for the disorder vary by sex.

Baby girls weighing less than 2.5 kilograms, or about 5.5 pounds, had 3.5 times increased risk of autism and baby girls born more than seven weeks early had a 5.4 times increased risk. Boys born small or early didn’t have a significant difference in their risk of being autistic, the according to a report in the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes autism, though genetics and the environment probably both play roles, according to the National Institutes of Health. This research indicates that boys and girls have different risk factors for the disorder, said study author Diana Schendel.

“This suggests there may be sex differences in genetic factors leading to autism,” said Schendel, a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a May 30 telephone interview. “Girls may need an additional insult” before birth that could include reduced growth or premature birth.

Autism and related disorders, some of them less severe, affect about 1 in 150 U.S. children. There is no cure for the malady, in which children may refuse to engage with other people, echo words and phrases, or repeat actions many times. Risk factors include older fathers and environmental toxins.

About 1 in 13 babies in the U.S. has low birth weight, according to the March of Dimes. Babies may weigh less than 5 pounds 8 ounces because they’re premature, because the mother has heart problems, because of infections or because of cigarette, drug, or alcohol use.

`Biggest Risk Factors’

“We know that low birth weight and pre-term birth are among the biggest risk factors for developmental disabilities,” Schendel said. “The higher prevalence of autism supports monitoring these children carefully for behavioral problems.”

Babies born with low birth weights are likelier to have bleeding in the brain, lungs that are more likely to collapse, heart problems, and vision loss.

The study was of children born from 1981 to 1993 in Atlanta, who lived to 3 years of age, and were still living in Atlanta at ages 3 to 10. Over 550 children with autism were paired to normal children born in the same year.

source: Elizabeth Lopatto’s article from www.bloomberg.com on 6/2/08

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