Premature birth is known to spur a range of problems in adulthood. Adding to the woes, babies born prematurely are at a higher risk of heart problems later in life than babies who are born full term.

Previously conducted studies have already linked preterm births with higher risk of learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, digestion troubles and problems associated with breathing, vision and hearing.

According to the new findings, premature birth manifests important changes in heart formation and it’s functioning during adulthood.

“Up to 10 percent of today’s young adults were born prematurely and some have an altered higher cardiovascular risk profile in adult life,” study leader Paul Leeson, a cardiologist at the University of Oxford’s Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility in England, said.

“We wanted to understand why this occurs so that we can identify the small group of patients born premature who may need advice from their health care provider about this cardiovascular risk,” he said.

The study
For the purpose of the study, researchers at the University of Oxford’s Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility in the U.K. looked at 102 premature births and 132 full term births are followed them from birth until they were 25.

Besides standard heart tests for recording blood pressure and cholesterol, all participants underwent MRI scans to measure the thickness of their blood vessels and heart structures.

Thereafter, computer models were created to determine how much blood was being pumped in their hearts.

Researchers found that young adults who were born prematurely had smaller and heavier right lower heart chamber. Also, their hearts had thicker walls and lesser pumping capacity as compared to those who were born full term.

Furthermore, the lesser the gestation period greater was the effect on right ventricle size and function, the researchers highlighted.

“The changes we have found in the right ventricle are quite distinct and intriguing,” Leeson revealed. “Their hearts appear to be slightly smaller; they had slightly thicker walls and had a slight reduction of the blood they are pumping.”

Such changes in the heart’s right ventricle structure raise the likelihood of having mild to moderate hypertension. Also, it increases the risk for heart failure and cardiovascular-related death, researchers highlighted.

But, the study fails to establish the cause-and-effect relationship. “We are trying to dig deeper into what’s different about the hearts of those born preterm,” study’s first author Adam Lewandowski said. “The potential scientific explanations for why their hearts are different are fascinating, and our study adds to the growing understanding of how premature birth shapes future heart health.”

The findings of the study appear in the Aug. 12 issue of the journal Circulation.

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