Low birth weight directly increases the risk of heart disease years later in life, according to research.
A baby’s weight at birth should be considered a risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases, the researchers said on Monday.
Dr Maddalena Ardissino, honorary clinical research fellow at the UK's National Heart and Lung Institute, and her team analysed data from nearly 300,000 participants.
“Low birth weight is a common pregnancy complication," Dr Ardissino said. "Beyond its many short-term risks, our research highlights how it can influence long-term cardiovascular health in an important way.
“Understanding how birth weight is linked to heart health, and the risk factors at play, is an important step in improving cardiovascular risk prediction and providing personalised preventive care.”
Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said information about patients’ birth weight could be a “valuable tool to help doctors build up a better picture of patients’ risk of heart disease and identify those who could benefit from closer monitoring or targeted intervention”.
The new research, partly funded by the British Heart Foundation, found that low birth weight is directly associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, and that this relationship is independent of conditions in the womb.
A low birth weight is usually defined as less than 2.5kg.
A reduction in birth weight by about 480g resulted in a 20 per cent increased risk of heart disease, the research found.
The findings are being presented this weekend at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam.
Earlier research has found an association between low birthweight and a higher risk of heart disease, but until now it was not known whether birthweight alone could directly raise the risk of developing heart disease.
Researchers found that, throughout life, systolic blood pressure – the pressure when the heart is pumping blood through the arteries – plays a central role in this relationship.