According to a new study, high blood pressure during pregnancy can have long-term effects on children’s thinking skills, with effects continuing into their old age.
High blood pressure has been known to cause a selection of medical health problems for both mom and baby. Some of these include low birth weight and early delivery. But in a new study published in the journal Neurology, researchers looked at the blood pressure levels of the mothers of nearly 400 men, born between 1934 and 1944 in Finland.
These men’s math, visual spatial reasoning skills and language were tested at age 20 and 69.
The results showed that men, whose mothers had high blood pressure during pregnancy — defined as 140 mmHg or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or higher — scored more than 4 points lower on the thinking tests at age 69 than the men whose mothers did not have any blood pressure problems during pregnancy. They also had the biggest decline in overall cognitive ability after the age of 20.
Effects persist into old age
“This study adds to the existing literature by showing that the effects persist into old age,” said Katri Raikkonen of the Institute of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki, one of the study’s authors.
The biggest risk posed by high blood pressure while expecting is a decrease of blood flow to the placenta.
“The oxygen and nutrition being delivered to the fetus over the course of the pregnancy may not be quote, ‘as good as’ with an uncomplicated pregnancy. Therefore, the development of the fetus may be in some way impaired,” said Dr. Peter Bernstein, maternal fetal medicine specialist and director of perinatal safety and quality at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Bernstein was not associated with the new study.)
But Bernstein added that the differences were minimal.