High Blood Pressure during Pregnancy may Lower Child’s IQ Later in Life

According to a new study, conducted by the University of Helsinki in Finland, infants born to mothers who suffer from hypertension during pregnancy are at a higher risk for a lower IQ later in life.

This study is an extension of previous evidence that linked low birth weight in newborns to an increased risk of aging-related disorders and lower cognitive function. Researchers from the University of Helsinki were hoping to uncover some of the mechanisms involved in this link.

“Lower birth rate is a proxy of environmental factors during pregnancy,” said study author Katri Raikkonen, a researcher at the university. “And preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, is one of those environmental factors.”

For the study, Raikkonen and her colleagues anazlyed the medical records of 398 Finnish mothers and their sons, all of which were born between 1934 and 1944. The sons were followed all the way into adulthood. Each of man was given two separate cognitive tests that evaluated language skills, math and spatial relationships. The first test was given at the age of 20; the other was given around age 68.

After cross-referencing the cognitive tests with the health records of their mothers, researchers found that men born to mothers with high blood pressure during pregnancy scored 4.36 points lower on the cognitive test later in older age than those born to mothers with normal blood pressure. Additionally, the initial testing scores were lower for those born to mothers with higher blood pressure.

“Not only did they score lower, but their decline in cognition was greater – so they lose cognitive function more quickly,” Raikkonene said. “One of the exceptional things is that we were able to measure cognitive ability at both 20 and 68 years of age, using the same cognitive measurement device. So we were able to test their cognitive ability before any decline could be expected to occur.”

But the results may not be completely accurate, Raikkonen says. Measurements for high blood pressure are very different today than they were back in 1934. Additionally, medical technology has improved greatly since that time. She also says that the data would need to be reconfirmed to be clinically significant.

“The data are limited by the measurement limitations used in 1934. Medicine hadn’t developed to the stat it has now. The hypertension spectrum disorder criteria that were used in this study do not compare to the hypertension criteria we use now,” Raikkonen said.

Additionally, the association does not necessarily mean that a child will have a lower IQ just because their mother has high blood pressure during pregnancy; it is simply considered a possible risk at this time. But the evidence still supports just how important it is for women to care for their bodies and their mental state during pregnancy.

“Mothers should look after not just their physical health, but also their psychological health. Stress is well known to have cardiovascular consequences of heightening blood pressure. If these factors are persistent, then the blood pressure may consistently be more reactive and more elevated,” Raikkonen said about keeping blood pressure down during pregnancy.

And for women that are concerned about their preeclampsia or have already delivered with heightened blood pressure, Raikkonen offers some advice.

“More attention should be paid to the development of the offspring. Some factors during post-natal life can be protective like breast feeding and good quality parenting,” Raikkonen said. “These habits can override the adversities a mother doesn’t have control over during pregnancy.”

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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