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Why A Premature Birth May Lead To Heart Disease Later For The Mother


It’s believed a child born premature may be at risk later for heart problems as an adult. But a recent study suggests preterm birth may be an early sign of heart disease later for the mother. 

The study found that compared with women who delivered full-term babies, women who gave birth earlier than 37 weeks had a 42 percent increased risk of stroke or heart attack later in life. Among women who gave birth at 32 weeks or sooner, the risk was more than doubled.

Dr. Carl Horton is a cardiologist with Texas Health Physicians Group.

Interview Highlights: 

What is the tie between premature birth and heart disease? “From the study, they hypothesize the link is inflammation. Usually when women deliver prematurely, they may have some underlying intrauterine infection and that can let off cytokines, and subsequently those cytokines can affect the vasculature, and subsequently cause premature deliveries. And in this study, they also tried to separate patients that had other traditional risk factors. So they weeded out patients who had diabetes, hypertension, who smoked – and they just looked specifically at preterm deliveries.

Did the people studied follow a heart healthy lifestyle? "They did this mainly through questionnaires. They tried to analyze as many risk factors as possible and tried to normalize patients as much as possible.  What it tells us is those women who have preterm delivery, those patients have a higher likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease as they get older, and that we need to look and think about how we’re going to screen those patients earlier."

What women who’ve had preterm births should take from this study: "They need to begin to think about diet, exercise at a much earlier age than they normally would – probably in their 20s and 30s. Atherosclerosis can start to develop as a young adult or teenager in certain patients, so you would want to start as soon as possible." 

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.