Adults who were premature babies may be at higher risk for heart problems according to a new study published in the journal Circulation.

Researchers tracked 102 premature babies from birth into their 20s, and compared them to 132 people born at full term. They found that the right lower heart chamber in young adults who were born prematurely was smaller and heavier, had thicker walls and less pumping capacity, and that the more premature the birth, the greater the effect on right ventricle size and function.

“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 changes we have found in the right ventricle are quite distinct and intriguing.”

The study found an association between being born prematurely and differences in heart size and function in adulthood, but it didn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

“We are trying to dig deeper into what’s different about the hearts of those born preterm,” study 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.”

Read more. Image courtesy of Blausen Medical.