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OBJECTIVE--To determine whether obstetric complications occur to excess in the early histories of individuals who go on to develop schizophrenia when compared with controls, and to seek clinical correlates of any such excess. DESIGN--Contemporaneous maternity hospital records were identified and extracted verbatim, and these extracts evaluated for obstetric complications by two independent assessors who were blind to subjects' status. SUBJECTS--65 patients having an ICD-9 diagnosis of schizophrenia, the records of the previous same sex live birth being deemed to be those of a control subject. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE--Presence of one or more obstetric complications recorded in maternity notes of patients and controls. RESULTS--When two recognised scales for specifying obstetric complications were used the patients with schizophrenia were significantly more likely than controls to have experienced at least one obstetric complication (odds ratio 2.44, 95% confidence interval 1.08 to 6.03). Patients also showed a greater number and severity of and total score for obstetric complications, fetal distress being the only complication to occur to significant individual excess (present in five (8%) patients, absent in controls). There was a marked sex effect, male patients being more vulnerable (odds ratio 4.24, 1.39 to 12.90) to such complications. Obstetric complications in patients were unrelated to family history or season of birth but were associated with a significantly younger age at onset of illness (mean difference--4.5 years,--1.2 to--7.8 years). CONCLUSIONS--Patients with schizophrenia, particularly males, have an excess of obstetric complications in their early developmental histories, and such complications are associated with a younger age at onset of their disease. Though the data are not conclusive, they also suggest that obstetric complications may be secondary to yet earlier events.