A study by the University of Rhode Island, headed by Professor of Nursing Mary C. Sullivan, shows that 23-year-olds who were born as premature infants were less healthy, had problems with academics and socialization, and were afflicted with a higher risk for heart-related diseases in adulthood than their full-term counterparts.
Sullivan’s latest study looks into the “fetal origins hypothesis”, the idea that a pre-term infant birth triggers a stress response, producing higher levels of the hormone cortisol in the process. Cortisol is responsible for regulating metabolism and immune response, among others.
Participants in the study were classified into two groups: a control group with healthy babies and another with premature infants born between 24 to 34 weeks, with different weights. Here are some of the findings:
• Preemies who had medical as well as neurological problems due to pre-term birth had a 32 percent higher chance of having asthma, eye problems, and fine motor and hand coordination problems. On average, the pre-term group (when surveyed at age 17) had poorer health and growth, including their neurological condition.
• Those who had extremely low birth weight (less than 2.2 pounds) had the poorest lung health conditions and a higher resting blood pressure. Male preemies with low birth weight had problems with breathing in early adulthood.
Said Sullivan, "Continued monitoring of preterm survivors will enhance our understanding of the relative impact of prematurity and neonatal intensive care on later adult cardiopulmonary disease."