Women with high blood pressure during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from memory problems later in life, study finds
- Dutch health researchers tested the memory and thinking skills of 596 women
- Each gave birth 15 years prior, but some had high blood pressure at the time
- In a memory test, the latter group scored around 7 per cent lower on average
- Other thinking skills did not seem to be affected by blood pressure levels
Mothers may be more likely to develop memory problems later in life if they had high blood pressure when they were pregnant, a study has warned.
Researchers from the Netherlands tested the memory and thinking skills of a total of 596 women who had given birth fifteen years previously.
The cohort included women whose blood pressure had been within normal levels during their pregnancy — and those with higher readings.
The findings could lead to screening programs to help identify those at risk of mental deterioration, the researchers said.
In the UK, it is estimated that up to 10 per cent of pregnant women suffer from high blood pressure — which, in turn, is a known risk factor for dementia.
Mothers may be more likely to develop memory problems later in life if they had high blood pressure when they were pregnant, a study has warned. Pictured, a blood pressure test
‘Women with high blood pressure that starts in pregnancy — as well as women with pre-eclampsia — should be monitored closely after their pregnancy,’ said paper author and obstetrician Maria Adank of Rotterdam’s Erasmus University.
These women, she add, ‘should consider lifestyle changes and other treatments that may help reduce their risk of decline in their thinking and memory skills later in life.’
In their study, Dr Adank and colleagues conducted memory tests on a total of 596 women — 481 of whom had normal blood pressure levels during pregnancy and 80 who had so-called gestational hypertension, which develops after 20 weeks.
The final 35 participants had pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure — usually during the latter half of gestation and after labour — as well as the presence of protein in urine samples.
The researchers tested each woman’s thinking and memory skills fifteen years after they had given birth to their child.
The team found that subjects who had high blood pressure while pregnant were prone to lower scores in tests of their immediate and delayed recall ability, in which they were asked to recall a list of 15 words first right away and again 20 minutes later.
This deficiency remained even after over factors that could have impacted the women’s thinking skills — such as education level and pre-pregnancy body mass index (or BMI) — were taken into account.
Specifically, those women who had high blood pressure during their pregnancies scored an average of 25 out of a possible 45 in the immediate recall test, which was given to each woman three times — compared to 28 for the other women.
‘Women with high blood pressure that starts in pregnancy — as well as women with pre-eclampsia — should be monitored closely after their pregnancy,’ said paper author and obstetrician Maria Adank of Rotterdam’s Erasmus University
‘It is important to consider gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia as risk factors for cognitive impairment that are specific to women,’ said Dr Adank.
‘Many women may think of this as a temporary issue during pregnancy and not realise it could potentially have long-lasting effects.’
The team found no difference between the two groups as regards tests of fine motor skills, processing speed, verbal fluency and visual-spatial ability.
Dr Adank cautioned that the study does not prove that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between high blood pressure during pregnancy and test scores later in life — only an association.
One limitation of the study was that no thinking or memory tests were taken before the women were pregnant, or during pregnancy, for the purposes of making baseline comparisons.
The researchers could also not look at the effects on thinking skills of a pregnancy complicated by high blood pressure within one woman.
‘Future studies are needed to determine whether early treatment of high blood pressure can prevent cognitive problems in women with a history of high blood pressure in pregnancy,’ concluded Dr Adank.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Neurology.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won’t realise it.
The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.
Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.
The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They’re both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
As a general guide:
- high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
- ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
- low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
- A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.
If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.
Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- heart attacks
- heart failure
- peripheral arterial disease
- aortic aneurysms
- kidney disease
- vascular dementia