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Thursday, October 11, 2012

High blood pressure in pregnancy may affect the baby’s IQ

About ten percent of women experience some sort of hypertensive disorder, such as pre-eclampsia, while pregnant. Unfortunately, according to fourteen Finnish scientists, led by Soile Tuovinen of the University of Helsinki, high blood pressure during pregnancy is associated with lower cognitive ability in the resulting boy babies. I’m sure that knowing this will in no way affect the blood pressure of expecting mothers.

The researchers used data from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study. About 900 men who were born between 1934 and 1935 had undergone cognitive ability tests when they were twenty (prior to compulsory military service). Boys whose mothers had had high blood pressure while they were pregnant had slightly lower cognitive scores than boys whose mothers had had normal pregnancies. When retested at age 68, men from normal pregnancies showed no change in cognitive ability, but men from hypertensive pregnancies showed a slight decline in cognitive ability. By the way, this isn’t to suggest that women are not similarly affected. They just weren’t part of this study.

Even if this connection between hypertension and IQ does hold true, I don’t think it warrants any extra treatment or paranoia. For one thing, because hypertensive disorders are potentially very dangerous to the mother, pregnant women should already be having regular prenatal screenings to detect and treat any such conditions. For another, the differences in cognitive ability were not great. But as ever, check with your doctor if you have any concerns. 

Soile Tuovinen, Katri Raikkonen, Eero Kajantie, Markus Henriksson, & et al. (2012). Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy and cognitive decline in the offspring up to old age Neurology DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31826e2606