Ultrasound can Detect Risk of Autism at Birth: Study

First Posted: Feb 26, 2013 04:22 AM EST

Parents always want the best for their kids and would never be prepared to hear that their child is anything other than a healthy or happy kid. Nearly one in 88 children suffers from autism by the age of 8, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has remained a mystery of medicine, as scientists and doctors know very little about the occurrence of this neurological disorder. It is currently being diagnosed based on behavioral observation and screening.

But a recent study has something new to offer. The study, conducted by researchers at the Michigan State University, suggests that ultrasound tests may be helpful in determining the child's risk for autism.

Low birth weight babies with a particular brain abnormality were at a higher risk for autism, according to the study. And this is an indication for early detection of the disorder, which impairs social interaction and communication. The low birth weight newborns were seven times more likely to suffer from autism later in life if the ultrasound tests done after birth revealed they had enlarged ventricles, cavities in the brain that store spinal fluid.

In order to prove the hypothesis, the researchers worked on data that consisted of 1,105 low birth weight babies born in the mid 1980s. These babies received cranial ultrasounds after birth and this helped the researchers to check for the association between brain abnormalities existing during infancy and the health disorders that crop up later in life. The same children were screened for autism at the age of 16. Again after five years, at the age of 21, half of them were selected for a rigorous test and nearly 14 children were positively diagnosed with the condition.

"What this study shows us is that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism," lead author Tammy Movsas said in a press statement. He is also the assistant professor of paediatrics at MSU and a medical director of the Midland County Department of Public Health.

Premature babies often have a ventricular enlargement and have loss of brain tissue known as white matter.

Further study is needed in order to gain complete information on why the loss of white matter interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism, says co-author Nigel Paneth, MSU epidemiologist.

The study was published in the journal of Pediatrics

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