Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is linked to low birth weights, according to a Norwegian study.
IBS can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation
Scientists have discovered that people born weighing less than 2.5kg (5.5lb) were at a greater risk of developing IBS than heavier babies.
They believe this may be related to development of the digestive system.
The study, published in the journal Gut, looked at 3,334 pairs of female and male identical and non-identical twins born between 1967 and 1979.
They compared the recorded birth weight of the volunteers with whether they had gone on to suffer from IBS.
Roughly one in 20 had suffered from IBS, a common and painful condition that has a wide range of symptoms, including regular abdominal pain, diarrhoea and constipation. Women were more likely to have IBS than men.
'Significantly higher risk'
The researchers found that those born weighing less than 2.5kg were more likely to have had IBS - although they were unable to quantify the exact size of the effect.
For those born weighing less than 1.5kg, the difference was more marked: they were 2.5 times more likely to have had IBS when compared with those weighing above 2.5kg.
Lead researcher Dr May-Bente Bengston, of the University of Oslo, said this was a "significantly higher risk".
They also found that the twins with the low birth weight were more likely to develop IBS about eight years earlier than those weighing over 1.5kg.
Dr Bengston said: "It could be because the gut system has restricted development in smaller babies. This could mean the bowel is affected, causing IBS symptoms, but we really cannot be sure."
She said social influences could also be a factor. She said parents of smaller babies may be more aware of healthcare for their children, and IBS may be more readily diagnosed in this population.
She said the study also revealed that genes could play a role in IBS in women.
The identical female twins, she said, were more prone to the disease than the non-identical female twins.
The same was not true for the male twins, but Dr Bengston added that the sample of male identical twins in the study may have been too small to reveal any genetic associations.
Dr John de Caestecker, a gastroenterologist from Leicester General Hospital, said: "There is a lot of interest in chronic pain syndromes on the effect of early life experiences on the pain pathways.
"Experimental models have shown that stressing animals in the neonatal period can alter their pain sensitivity later in life.
"One just wonders whether the lower birth weight babies are more stressed babies and this affects their susceptibility to IBS."