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Methamphetamine use restricts fetal growth, study finds

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Newborns whose mothers used methamphetamine during pregnancy are 3.5 times more likely to be born underweight compared to newborns whose mothers didn't use the drug, according to a research study led Brown Medical School Professor Barry Lester.

The study, published in Pediatrics, is the first large-scale investigation of the prenatal effects of methamphetamine, a popular and highly addictive stimulant. It is also the first prospective study: these infants will be followed over time.

Results show that newborns exposed to the drug were not born too soon they were born too small. Methamphetamine appears to restrict the nutrient-rich flow of blood into the placenta, increasing the risk that the newborn will be "small for gestational age" born full-term but below the 10th percentile for weight. Growth-restricted newborns in the study weighed less than 5 pounds.

The long-term effects of growth restriction can be serious. These children are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a collection of heart attack risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity.

"We're also very concerned about the developmental implications," said Lester, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry and human behavior and director of the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk, which was established with Women & Infants Hospital in Providence. "Children who are born underweight tend to have behavior problems, such as hyperactivity or short attention span, as well as learning difficulties."

Researchers enrolled 1,618 patients in the study from four medical centers, located in Tulsa, Okla., Des Moines, Iowa, Los Angeles and Honolulu. Women were asked if they had used methamphetamine, but researchers also checked for evidence. Meconium, a newborn's first few stools and also a buildup of material gained during pregnancy, was scraped from diapers and chemically screened for the presence of the d
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Contact: Wendy Lawton
Wendy_Lawton@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
5-Sep-2006


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