Background: Preterm birth increases risk for adult cardiovascular disease. We hypothesized that arteries in 6-y-old children born preterm are narrower, with thicker intima-media and stiffer than in peers born at term.
Methods: Children born extremely preterm (EXP, n = 176, birthweights: 348-1,161 g) and at term (CTRL, n = 174, birthweights: 2,430-4,315 g) were included. Using ultrasonography, we determined diameters of the coronaries (CA), common carotid arteries (CCA) and aorta, the carotid intima media thickness (cIMT), and the stiffness index of the CCA and aorta.
Results: Arteries were 5-10% narrower in EXP than in CTRL (P < 0.005) but after adjustment for body surface area, diameter differences diminished or disappeared. EXP-children born small for gestational age exhibited similar arterial dimensions as those born appropriate for date. The cIMT was 0.38 (SD = 0.04) mm and did not differ between groups. Carotid but not aortic stiffness was lower in EXP than in CTRL.
Conclusion: In 6-y-old children born extremely preterm, conduit arteries are of similar or smaller size than in controls born at term, and they have no signs of accelerated intima media thickening or arterial stiffening. While these findings are reassuring for these children and their families, the causal pathways from preterm birth to adult cardiovascular disease remain unknown.