ISSN 2330-717X

Low Birth Weight Can Lead To Heart Changes That Persist At Adult Age And Limits Capacity For Exercise


A study coordinated by researchers at BCNatal-IDIBAPS and University of Barcelona (UB), and published by the journal JAMA Cardiology, shows that people born with a low birth weight present differences in the structure and functioning of their heart and have less capacity for physical activity than other people when they are adults.

People who were born with low birth weight (those in the first decile, i.e. out of all births, the 10% of babies that were born with the lowest birth weight) experience more cardiovascular problems when they are adults. For example, they have up to three times more probabilities of suffering a myocardial infarction.

To date, the reason for this was unknown, and it was considered that it might be due to higher rates of heart attack, obesity, hypertension, stroke, diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

The research team led by Dr Gratacós was the first to demonstrate, in previous studies, that an important part of the problem is the heart itself. “We saw that the hearts of children with a low birth weight present differences in function and in structure, and that these differences that appear in the fetal stage persist until adolescence”.

It was still necessary to find out whether the changes in the heart’s structure and function persist in adult age and this was what was studied in the work published in JAMA Cardiology. “It is a pioneering study, which combines highly sophisticated computerised analysis techniques to analyse the shape of the heart using magnetic resonance imaging and a stress test”, explains Marta Sitges, director of the Institut Clínic Cardiovascular, head of the IDIBAPS Cardiac imaging group and co-author of the study.

People were selected aged between 20 and 40 years who had been born with low birth weight or with normal birth weight. To locate them, the delivery books from the Hospital de Sant Joan de Déu from 20 to 40 years ago were reviewed. Based on the date of birth and the mother’s surname, it was possible to contact some of the individuals, and the proposal was made to them to participate in the study.

Participation consisted of 158 adults, of whom 81 had been born with a low birth weight and 77 with a normal birth weight. They underwent a cardiac MRI and a stress test using a bicycle.

“The cardiac MRI showed that people who had been born with low birth weight show significant changes in theirr heart structure atadult age. Their right ventricle had a different shape”, explains Fàtima Crispi.

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