Why Some 'Preemies' Grow Up to Have Weaker Hearts

Why Some 'Preemies' Grow Up to Have Weaker Hearts

The hearts of adults who were premature babies pump less blood during exercise than adults who were full-term babies, a small study finds.

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That might help explain why some people born prematurely are at greater risk for heart failure later in life, the study authors said.

The study included 47 adults who were born prematurely (before 37 weeks' gestation) and 54 adults who were born at full-term. Heart function in the two groups was similar when they were resting.

But during moderate workouts on exercise bikes, the amount of blood leaving the heart during each heartbeat was 7.3 percent lower, on average, in the premature group, the study found. During exercise, heart rate normally increases, along with the amount of blood pumped out by the left ventricle.

Heart failure means the heart doesn't have enough strength to pump blood throughout the body.

The more prematurely a person was born, the lower the ability of their heart to pump blood during exercise, the findings showed.

The finding may help explain why some premature babies have higher odds of heart failure later in life, the researchers said. Between 5 percent and 18 percent of babies worldwide are born early.

The researchers are now investigating whether an exercise program for young adults born prematurely might reduce their risk.

"Thanks to advances in modern medicine, there are a huge number of people alive today who were born prematurely. But we're only just beginning to understand the impact this start in life has on the heart," lead investigator Adam Lewandowski said. He is a research fellow at the University of Oxford, in England.

"By unpicking the mechanisms that link premature birth to heart failure, we hope to develop strategies to keep this population healthier for longer," he explained in a news release from the British Heart Foundation, which partly funded the study.

Jeremy Pearson, the foundation's associate medical director, said couples who are expecting and people who know they were born prematurely should not fret about the findings.

"Most babies born prematurely will live long and active lives, and won't go on to develop heart failure as adults," he said in the news release.

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"But the results do shed light on the way our hearts develop and how this could be different if you're born prematurely. The research also offers us new ideas for how we can help these people to protect their hearts for a lifetime," he said.

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on heart failure.


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