BACKGROUND: The association between low birthweight and increased blood pressure in later life has repeatedly been confirmed. Increased arterial stiffness may be an underlying mechanism for this phenomenon. This study investigated whether birthweight was related to blood pressure and local and regional arterial stiffness.
METHODS: In 281 subjects (161 women), with a mean age of 36, blood pressure was measured. The diameter, distension, and local pulse pressure of three large arteries were measured simultaneously using ultrasound imaging. Local and regional arterial compliance and distensibility were calculated. Information on birthweight was retrieved with a questionnaire.
RESULTS: Linear regression analyses showed a 3.3 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure (SBP) and a 1.8 mmHg lower diastolic blood pressure (DBP), per 1kg higher birthweight. These associations were statistically significant after adjustment for adult weight. Birthweight was significantly and positively related to carotid arterial compliance (P = 0.050), but less so to brachial (P = 0.114) and femoral arterial compliance (P = 0.058). However, after adjustment for adult height, the strength of these associations decreased. Birthweight was not related to arterial distensibility. The association between birthweight and arterial compliance could only partly explain the association between birthweight and blood pressure.
CONCLUSIONS: Lower birthweight is related to increased blood pressure, and increased arterial stiffness. However, the latter relationship can only partly explain the association between birthweight and blood pressure. Therefore, mechanisms other than arterial stiffness contribute to the birthweight-blood pressure relationship.