One Less Worry for Preterm Babies

Metabolic syndrome risk in preterm babies no different than in babies born on time

March 17, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are considered preterm babies. Being born early can put babies at a higher risk for a variety of medical conditions.

However, metabolic syndrome does not appear to be one conditions.

Researchers who analyzed the results of over two dozen studies found that adults who had been born preterm appeared no more likely to have metabolic syndrome symptoms than adults born at term.

Preterm babies did grow up to have slightly higher blood pressure and elevated low-density lipoproteins.

Yet none of the other metabolic syndrome appeared linked to preterm birth.

"Attend all prenatal appointments."

The study, led by James Parkinson, PhD, of the Section of Neonatal Medicine at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, looked for a link between being born early and showing symptoms of metabolic syndrome as an adult.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms occurring together that put an individual at a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.

It includes a higher body mass index (BMI, based on a person's ratio of height to weight), higher blood pressure, higher percentage of body fat and a higher waist to hip ratio. It also includes symptoms related to a person's blood sugar levels and lipid profiles.

The researchers reviewed 27 studies that include a total of 17,030 babies born preterm (before the 37th week of pregnancy) and 295,261 babies born at full term.

Analyzing all these studies together, the researchers found that adults who had been born early were more likely to have higher systolic blood pressure by about 4.2 mm Hg. Systolic is the blood pressure number on top.

Adults who had been born preterm were also more likely to have a higher diastolic (lower number) blood pressure by about 2.6 mm Hg. Adults who had been born preterm also had slightly higher low-density lipoprotein results (an average 0.14 mmol/L).

These differences between blood pressure in adults, depending on whether they were born preterm or at term, were greater in women than in men.

However, for all the other symptoms of metabolic syndrome, no differences were found between term-born adults and preterm-born adults.

The researchers did note that the "increased plasma low-density lipoprotein in young adults born preterm may represent a greater risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease in later life."

Also, very few of the studies included adults over age 30, so results may be different for older ages.

So far, however, other than the slightly higher blood pressure among adults born preterm, the other symptoms of metabolic syndrome do not appear to be associated with being born early.

The study was published March 18 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not receive external funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
March 17, 2013
Last Updated:
March 17, 2013