Young adults who were born prematurely show multiple biological signs of risks to future health, research from Imperial College London has found. The scientists, reporting their findings October 19 in the journal Pediatric Research, say that the research indicates that urgent work is now needed to monitor preterm babies into adulthood to improve the detection of early signs of disease.
The study of 48 volunteers aged 18-27 found that those who were born at 33 weeks of gestation or less had higher blood pressure, more fat tissue despite having a normal Body Mass Index, and more fat in their muscle and liver. These traits are linked to heart and circulatory disease and type 2 diabetes. The differences in fat around the abdomen were most marked in men.
The number of preterm babies born each year is rising, and in developed countries, around 2 per cent of babies are born before 33 weeks of gestation.
"This was only a small study but the differences we found were quite striking," said Professor Neena Modi, the lead investigator in the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London. "The results suggest that we need to monitor the health of premature babies beyond infancy and childhood. Preterm men and women might be at greater risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy revealed differences in the chemical makeup of their urine, with preterm subjects producing more metabolites associated with inflammation, which is in keeping with the higher blood pressure and greater fat found in the preterm subjects.
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