High Blood Pressure Affects Babies' Cognitive Development - Consumer Justice Foundation

High Blood Pressure Affects Babies’ Cognitive Development

Written by Faith Anderson on October 4, 2012
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Types of Maternal Hypertension

Hypertension is a medical problem commonly encountered by women during pregnancy. There are four types of hypertension in pregnancy:

  • Chronic hypertension – Blood pressure surpasses 140/90 mm Hg before the mother became pregnant, or before her 20th week of pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia – A sharp rise in blood pressure accompanied by swelling of the hands, feet and face, usually in the third trimester
  • Gestational diabetes – Diabetes that resolves itself after the baby is born
  • Preeclampsia superimposed on chronic hypertension

According to Katri Raikonen, PhD, from the University of Helsinki in Finland, “High blood pressure and related conditions such as preeclampsia complicate about 10 percent of all pregnancies and can affect a baby’s environment in the womb. Our study suggests that even declines in thinking abilities in old age could have originated during the prenatal period when the majority of development of brain structure and function occurs.”

Maternal Hypertension Impacts Cognitive Skills in Children

The findings of the study indicate that, in addition to lower scores at age 69, the men whose mothers had high blood pressure while pregnant also scored lower on thinking skills tests when they were 20 years old, and had a greater decline in scores over the years than the men whose mothers did not experience hypertension. The evidence was most strongly associated with math reasoning. The study authors examined whether premature birth at all influenced these particular results, and found that it did not. The profession of the babies’ fathers – from manual labor to office work – also did not affect the study results. In light of their findings, the researchers concluded, “Maternal hypertensive disorders in pregnancy predict lower cognitive ability and greater cognitive decline up to old age. A propensity to lower cognitive ability and decline up to old age may have prenatal origins.”

Posted Under: United States
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