“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,” said study author Katri Räikönen, PhD, with the University of Helsinki in Finland. “Our study suggests that even declines in thinking abilities in old age could have originated during the prenatal period when the majority of the development of brain structure and function occurs.”
Researchers looked at medical records for the mother’s blood pressure in pregnancy for 398 men who were born between 1934 and 1944. The men’s thinking abilities were tested at age 20 and then again at an average age of 69. Tests measured language skills, math reasoning and visual and spatial relationships.
The study found that men whose mothers had high blood pressure while pregnant scored 4.36 points lower on thinking ability tests at age 69 compared to men whose mothers did not have high blood pressure. The group also scored lower at the age of 20 and had a greater decline in their scores over the decades than those whose mothers did not have problems with blood pressure. The finding was strongest for math-related reasoning.
The researchers also looked at whether premature birth affected these findings and found no change. Whether the baby’s father was a manual laborer or an office worker also did not change the results.
The study was supported by the Academy of Finland, European Science Foundation, University of Helsinki, the British Heart Foundation, the Finnish Foundation of Cardiovascular Research, the Finnish Diabetes Research Foundation, the Finnish Medical Society, Gulf Läkaresällskapet, the National Doctoral Program of Psychology, the Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, the Juho Vainio Foundation, the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, the Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, the Finnish Ministry of Education and the Finnish Foundation for Pediatric Research.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 25,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.