Premature Birth Associated With Increased Risk of Heart Disease

Women that have premature delivery during pregnancy have double the risk of death from coronary heart disease in later life, according to research undertaken by University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM), Keele University, the University of Arizona and the University of Leicester.

Premature birth (delivery before 37 gestational weeks) affects ten per cent of pregnancies and is linked to poor health in premature babies. This research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the North Staffordshire Heart Committee, found that there are long term implications for women's health also, whereby mothers who give birth before 37 gestational weeks have a 1.4 to 1.6-fold increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke in later life.

These findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, involved the analysis of 21 studies and more than five million women. They showed that risks of death from coronary heart disease later in life are already present less than ten years following premature birth, and were just as high as the risks at longer follow-up times.

The lead author for this publication, Dr Pensee Wu, is an Honorary Consultant Obstetrician and Maternal Fetal Medicine Subspecialist at UHNM, and is also a Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Keele University.

She said: "Doctors need to be aware that women who have had premature births are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and should be considering obstetric history during a woman's cardiovascular risk assessment.

"I hope this work will raise awareness amongst hospitals and primary care doctors of the lifestyle advice that they can give to women who have had a premature birth in the past. With funding from the NIHR we are conducting further research to understand the causes of increased cardiovascular risk in women who have had premature births."

Professor Mamas Mamas, senior author and Consultant Cardiologist at UHNM, said: "Obstetricians and cardiologists need to work closer together in treating these patients identified as high risk, with the development of shared treatment pathways that cross medical specialities and target interventions to this high risk group."

Dr Wu has been awarded a prestigious NIHR fellowship to examine pregnancy complications and long-term cardiovascular outcomes.​