Prematurity and cardiovascular risk at early adulthood

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Background: Theories of early stress exposure and allostatic load offer a lifespan perspective to adult health after prematurity based on these early stressors affecting endocrine and metabolic systems. In this study, we examine cardiovascular and metabolic risk by comparing two groups of preterm infants who experienced a full spectrum of neonatal illness and a term-born group at age 23. Methods: Of the 215 infants recruited at birth, 84% participated at age 23. The cohort included 45 full-term (FT), 24 healthy preterm (HPT), and 111 sick preterm (SPT) infants. Socio-economic status was equivalent across groups. Cardiovascular and metabolic outcomes were as follows: blood pressure (BP), fasting glucose and lipid profiles, weight, waist–hip ratio (WHR), and body mass index (BMI). Clinical and subclinical ranges were compared across neonatal groups and gender. Results: At age 23, the HPT and SPT groups had higher systolic BP compared with the FT group. The SPT group had lower weight compared with the FT and HPT groups. No group differences were found on diastolic BP, glucose, total cholesterol, high-density lipids, low-density lipids, triglycerides, BMI, or WHR. Preterm males had more systolic hypertension and low high-density lipids than FT males. Former preterm males and females had high WHR ratios and BMI at 23 years. Subclinical prehypertensive rates were highest for the HPT female group, followed by the SPT females. Only one (4.2%) HPT adult male was clinically diabetic. Conclusions: As young adults, HPT and SPT infants had early indicators of cardiovascular risk but no indicators of metabolic risk. There is utility in using clinical and subclinical ranges to identify early cardiovascular risk in early adulthood.

Publication Title

Child: Care, Health and Development