Preterm Birth May Be Early Warning of Heart Disease in Women

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A preterm birth appears to be an early warning signal of a woman’s risk for heart disease, a new study shows.

The study, published online in the journal Circulation, was based on data from 70,182 women. 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.

Notably, the higher risk of heart disease was independent of the mother’s pre-pregnancy lifestyle and other heart risk factors. The data adjusted for a number of factors that could influence heart disease risk, including race, age at first birth, education, hypertension before or during pregnancy, diabetes, physical activity, smoking and other pre-pregnancy health and behavioral characteristics.

“Women who are delivering a preterm infant have an early warning signal for their future health,” said the lead author, Lauren J. Tanz, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “They may want to take special care with their hearts and adopt a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of babies in the United States are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy have passed.