High blood pressure disorders of pregnancy affect nearly 1 in 7 women in the United States. They are one of the leading causes of illness and death in mothers and babies.
These disorders include gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. These pregnancy complications have been strongly linked to heart disease in later life, but, until now, few studies have connected these disorders with thinking and memory.
Researchers looked back at the records of more than 59,000 women who gave birth in Utah over 80 years.
Compared with women with no history of a high blood pressure disorder of pregnancy, women with preeclampsia had a 1.38 times higher risk of dementia overall, and a 1.58 times higher risk of “vascular” dementia – a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain.
Also, women with a history of gestational hypertension had a 1.36 times higher risk of dementia overall and 2.75 times higher risk of vascular dementia.
Karen Schliep, PhD, with University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, presented the findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
The Utah findings are in line with a recent study from Denmark.
In that study, pregnant women who got preeclampsia had more than three times the risk of getting dementia later in life than women who did not have the pregnancy complication.
Considering the serious short- and long-term effects of these pregnancy complications, “early detection and treatment are vital to protect both the pregnant person and baby,” Claire Sexton, PhD, senior director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a news release.
“These data illuminate the importance of prenatal care and monitoring the long-term health of pregnant people. Those who experience any changes with their memory and cognition should have a discussion with their health care provider,” she said.
Heather Snyder, PhD, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, says it is becoming clear there are things throughout life that may contribute to the risk for dementia.
“Understanding all of the pieces of this puzzle are going to be essential as we think about what may be someone’s lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” she says.