A new study links high blood pressure during pregnancy with cognitive issues later in life, adding to known risks such as stroke and heart disease.
Women with preeclampsia -- high blood pressure during pregnancy that may be accompanied by kidney or other organ damage -- may have even more cognitive decline later compared to those with gestational high blood pressure, which does not affect kidneys or other organs, according to the study.
The findings were published March 1 in the online issue of Neurology.
“More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, these results suggest that managing and monitoring blood pressure during and after pregnancy is an important factor for brain health later in life,” study author Michelle Mielke said in a journal news release. She is a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Mielke and her colleagues combed the medical records of 2,239 women (average age: 73), for information about past pregnancies.
In all, 83% had at least one pregnancy.
About 100 patients with pregnancies longer than 20 weeks had gestational high blood pressure and 147 had preeclampsia or eclampsia. More than 1,600 had normal blood pressure.
Study participants took memory and thinking tests every 15 months over an average of five years.
Overall, women with high blood pressure during pregnancy had a greater mental decline than those with normal blood pressure during pregnancy and those who had not given birth.
The average composite score on all memory and thinking tests for participants with any type of high blood pressure disorder declined 0.3 points over the study period compared to 0.05 points for those without high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Results were more pronounced for those who had preeclampsia compared to women whose blood pressure was normal throughout pregnancy.
A study limitation is that most of the participants were white. Results may not apply to more diverse populations with higher rates of high blood pressure in pregnancy, the researchers said. Also, the study only found an association between high blood pressure conditions during pregnancy and thinking problems later, not a cause-and-effect link.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on high blood pressure during pregnancy.
SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, March 1, 2023