New research shows that premature birth could lead to heart problems in later life.
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility followed 102 premature babies until they were in their mid-20s, comparing them with 132 people born on schedule.
They discovered the right ventricle was smaller but heavier in people who were born early, resulting in it having thicker walls and struggling to pump blood effectively. Those born earlier were particularly affected. The findings were published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation .
Study leader Professor Paul Leeson said a tenth of young adults were born prematurely, leaving some with higher cardiovascular risk profile.
"We wanted to understand why this occurs so that we can identify the small group of patients born premature who may need advice from their healthcare provider about this cardiovascular risk," he said.
"The changes we have found in the right ventricle are quite distinct and intriguing."
Prof Leeson's team had previously found similar, marginally smaller differences in the left ventricle's size and function.
It is thought that alterations to the right ventricle's structure and function could increase the chances of older adults suffering from heart failure and even cardiovascular death.
However, the research team assured people who were born prematurely that these problems were not found in the young people who took part in the most recent study.
Copyright Press Association 2013