X-Ray Radiation during Pregnancy & Early Childhood may increase risk of schizophrenia for child

It is well known that low doses of radiation can damage a person's DNA. Reseach has also shown how x-rays can damage the developing brains of unborn babies as well as young children. In fact, recent research has also shown that exposure of the brain to ionizing (x-ray) radiation early in childhood (before 5 years of age) is associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life. This may be of particular relevance for families that have a history of schizophrenia or other psychiatric disorders.

In the year 2000, Christoph Schmitz at the University of Aachen, Germany and his colleagues showed for the first time that mice exposed to low doses of radiation in the womb develop lasting changes in the brain that don't appear until early adulthood. The researchers think the study may provide important clues to the development of adult-onset mental diseases such as schizophrenia. Unborn babies can be exposed to relatively high levels of X-rays when a pregnant woman travels by way of intercontinental airplane flights, or is exposed to medical and dental x-rays.

The following is a quote from the article in New Scientist magazine:

The researchers think their findings may provide important clues to the development of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia that appear in adulthood. They note recent reports that children who were born within nine months of the Chernobyl disaster have abnormal hippocampuses. They are also more likely to have behavioural problems and are considered to be at high risk of schizophrenia.

In 1998, in studies at Yale University School of Medicine, rhesus monkeys developed schizophrenia-like symptoms as a result of selective brain damage caused by X-rays during the critical early weeks of fetal development. The monkeys tested normal on a battery of cognitive tests while growing up, but developed symptoms of hallucinations and difficulties on memory and problem-solving tests after puberty.

"This is the first evidence suggesting that schizophrenia in humans might be caused by damage to neurons in the cortex or thalamus during fetal development," said Patricia S. Goldman-Rakic, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Yale. "Our study adds weight to the theory that fetal brain damage predisposes an individual to become schizophrenic after the hormonal changes of puberty. Such brain damage in conjunction with life events occurring at or around puberty may interact to allow for expression of the disease's symptoms."

The relationship between x-rays and schizophrenia may also be more complex than presented here. Research has shown, for example, that women who are pregnant and who have dental x-rays, tend to have smaller babies. And, lower birth weight is one of the known risk factors for schizophrenia.

Other news of value in this area is that a recent study suggested:

"Pediatric Skull X Ray May Be Omitted in Head Injury Assessment - Physicians can safely omit taking a routine skull x ray in children 1 to 14 years of age who present to the emergency room with a head injury according to researchers in Scotland who have published their study in this month's Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

The study authors conclude that the mechanism of head injury, a history of drowsiness, a loss of consciousness and a reduced score on the Glasgow coma score (GCS) are the most important indicators of a serious head injury in children. If these findings are present then their is cause for an immediate computed tomography study (CT scan) of the brain. The investigators say that using this protocol, children will be spared needless skull x rays. The article also reports that 10% of all childhood hospital admissions in the United Kingdom are due to head injury. " (Source: Medscape: Pediatric Skull X-ray May Be Omitted in Head Injury Assessment )

Action: During pregnancy, women may want to avoid radiation exposure such as that from medical X-rays (including dental x-rays) and intercontinental airplane flights. Families may also want to try to avoid subjecting their children to head x-rays prior to age of 5 (we recommend you consult with your doctors on these issue, if the need for a head x-ray arises).

Supporting Research (a sample):



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