Hypertension During Pregnancy Tied to Later Cognitive Decline

Pregnant women with blood pressure readings above 140/90 had deficits on tests of mental agility 15 years later.

Women who develop gestational hypertension — high blood pressure during pregnancy — may have reduced cognitive abilities later in life, a recent report suggests.

The study, in Neurology, included 115 women with a history of gestational hypertension between 2002 and 2006. They measured their mental agility an average of 15 years later using well-validated tests of verbal fluency, processing speed, memory and visuospatial skills. Then they compared their results with those of 481 women whose blood pressure remained normal during their pregnancies.

After controlling for ethnicity, educational level, pre-pregnancy B.M.I. and other factors, they found that women who were hypertensive during pregnancy had significantly lower scores on tests of working memory and verbal learning than those whose blood pressure was normal.

The lead author, Dr. Maria C. Adank, a researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, pointed out that the effect was driven mainly by the 70 percent of women in the study who had only mild hypertension — readings above 140/90 — and not by the 30 percent who had pre-eclampsia, the extremely high blood pressure that, untreated, can lead to organ damage and death in both mothers and babies.

“These are women with only mild hypertension. They’re healthy. But even at age 45 they have impaired cognition,” she said. “They and their clinicians should be aware of the risk, and they should be followed up. We think that hypertension is going to persist beyond pregnancy, and it should be treated.”

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