Prenatal Nicotine Exposure Linked to Children’s ADHD Diagnoses in Study Based on Blood Samples

February 25, 2019, 10:37 PM UTC

Women who smoke during pregnancy, and therefore have nicotine in their systems, are more likely to give birth to children who later develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study in the journal Pediatrics. And according to reporting by Reuters, which highlighted the study’s findings on Monday, the higher the nicotine levels in a mother’s blood, the greater chance a child will be diagnosed with ADHD.

As Reuters notes, this isn’t the first research study to assess this link, but the importance of this particular survey is that researchers relied on blood samples rather than women’s self-reporting about smoking habits and rates. Researchers measured the levels of cotinine in blood samples from women with children who had been diagnosed with ADHD, and those whose children had not. Cotinine is a substance found in tobacco that is also the metabolite of nicotine, meaning the end result of a body metabolizing nicotine. The tests showed that women with children who had been diagnosed with ADHD had a mean blood level more than double the mothers whose children were not diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.

It’s an interesting data point as ADHD diagnosis rates have continued to skyrocket in recent years, with more than six million children receiving an attention deficit diagnosis since 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That uptick is likely due to better diagnostics and screening for both children and adults. As more research finds evidence for potential causes of the condition, public health campaigns and programs could look toward education efforts aimed at behaviors, such as smoking during pregnancy, that can lead to these elevated risks and rates.