Cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stressors in late adulthood is predicted by gestational age at birth

Feldt, K., Räikkönen, K., Eriksson, J.G., Andersson, S., Osmond, C., Barker, D.J.P., Phillips, D.I.W. and Kajantie, E. (2007) Cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stressors in late adulthood is predicted by gestational age at birth. Journal of Human Hypertension, 21, (5), 401-410. (doi:10.1038/sj.jhh.1002176).


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The relationships of body size and gestational age at birth with adult blood pressure (BP) are relatively modest compared to their stronger associations with cardiovascular disease. BP reactivity is a strong predictor of cardiovascular morbidity, and it is possible that reactivity, rather than resting level, is determined in utero. We investigated whether body size and gestational age at birth predict BP reactivity during experimentally induced psychosocial stress in late adulthood. A total of 73 men and 80 women born after 36 weeks' gestation in Helsinki, Finland, during 1934-1944 underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST); a standardized psychosocial stress test consisting of a public speech and an arithmetic task. Changes in BP were monitored continuously by a non-invasive finger photoplethysmography (Finometer, FMS, Amsterdam, The Netherlands). The results showed that the most robust early determinant of BP reactivity was gestational age; however, with opposite relationships between the sexes (P for interaction <0.001). A 1-week increase in gestational age was associated with a 3.1 mm Hg (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.2 to 6.0) and 1.2 mm Hg (95% CI, -0.1 to 2.6) decreases in systolic and diastolic BP reactivity in women, but with 5.2 mm Hg (95% CI, 1.9 to 8.4) and 2.3 mm Hg (95% CI, 0.9 to 3.8) increases in men. In conclusion, normal variation in gestational age at birth predicts cardiovascular stress reactivity in later adulthood. Given that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis contributes to the regulation of autonomic nervous system function and the timing of parturition, and shows well-established sex differences, we speculate a role for early programming of this axis in explaining the findings.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1038/sj.jhh.1002176
ISSNs: 0950-9240 (print)
Related URLs:
Keywords: stress reactivity, blood pressure, gestational age, fetal programming
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Medicine
ePrint ID: 61109
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
May 2007Published
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2008
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:44

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