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High blood pressure during pregnancy is a well-known danger to mom and baby. A new study emphasizes the continuing neurological danger of preeclampsia for mom in later life.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can occur at any time during life or it can be chronic.  Both women and men suffer from hypertension with men slightly more likely to suffer the condition than women. During pregnancy, hypertension can have devastating impacts on mom and baby if the condition is not monitored and treated correctly by medical caregivers.

Preeclampsia is a dangerous form of hypertension that occurs during pregnancy. For pregnant women, untreated preeclampsia impacts the heart and internal organs and lead to complications including premature birth, placental abruption, seizures and stroke.  Preeclampsia can lead to the fetus receiving less oxygen, causing growth restriction, preterm birth, and low birth weight.

Recent research in the journal Neurology points to a possible association between pregnant women who suffer hypertension during pregnancy and women who experience cognitive problems later in life.

The study evaluated the medical records of 2,239 female participants with an average age of 73.  Within this group, 1,854 women had at least one pregnancy while 385 women were never pregnant or they had a pregnancy that lasted less than 20 weeks. A drawback of the study is that the women who participated were all white—which limits the application of the research results.

Study lead Dr. Michelle Mielke of Wake Forest University School of Medicine said, “While high blood pressure during pregnancy, including preeclampsia, is recognized as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, our study suggests that it may also be a risk factor for cognitive decline in later life.”

The study made the following findings:

  • Women who suffered high-blood pressure disorders during pregnancy had an overall increased risk of cognitive or thinking disorders later in life.
  • Pregnant women who suffered preeclampsia have a greater risk of cognitive decline in late life than those who had high-blood pressure without involvement of the heart or kidneys.
  • All participants were evaluated for memory and cognitive skills including attention, language, and executive function.

Dr. Mielke added, “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.”

If you are pregnant, or have a loved one who is, be sure to speak with your medical provider about the risk of high-blood pressure disorders during pregnancy. Testing and the right treatments may make for healthier moms and babies—throughout their lives. 

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