Research on borderline personality (BPD) has explored various avenues in search of risk factors. But according to a recent study, some of the biggest risk factors for BPD may develop in the womb. Cornelia E. Schwarze of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Medical Center Mainz in Germany led the study that looked at the prenatal conditions of 100 individuals with BPD and compared them to 100 participants with no history of BPD.
Schwarze interviewed the mothers of the participants and reviewed prenatal and medical records. She looked at factors such as prenatal smoking, stress, family conflict, and medical problems. Schwarze also assessed environmental risk factors for the participants by evaluating levels of childhood adversity including maltreatment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or other traumatic events.
The results revealed that the mothers of the BPD participants were more likely to have smoked during pregnancy when compared to the mothers of the 100 non-BPD control subjects. Additionally, the mothers of the participants with BPD also had higher rates of prenatal medical problems, stress, and conflict. Other risk factors that increased the likelihood of BPD were childhood sexual abuse and other childhood trauma. However, prenatal smoking and prenatal medical problems and stress had the strongest associations with BPD.
Exposure to prenatal smoke has been linked to impulsivity, identity issues, affective problems, and some borderline personality symptoms. The results of this study support existing research in this area. Schwarze also noted that medical problems that occur during pregnancy can have a significant impact on neurological development and specifically, on regions of the brain that affect emotional regulation. Although this should be explored further in future research, the strong link between prenatal medical problems and later BPD in children supports this as well.
Finally, prenatal stress, resulting from maternal stress during pregnancy, can be caused by a number of factors, including relationship problems, psychological issues, occupational conditions, or socioeconomic conditions, just to name a few. Each of these may also have a unique impact on the development of BPD or increased risk for BPD in unborn children. Schwarze added, “Future prospective longitudinal studies are essential to verify the impact of the observed potential prenatal risk factors.”
Schwarze, C. E., et al. (2013). Prenatal adversity: a risk factor in borderline personality disorder? Psychological Medicine 43.6 (2013): 1279-91. ProQuest. Web.
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