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Preeclampsia Can Affect Mental Health of Children

Maternal Hypertensive Pregnancy Disorders and Mental Disorders in Children

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which includes chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia, are known risk factors for maternal mortality, stillbirth, preterm birth and small gestational weight, as well as future cardiovascular disease for mother and child.  Emerging evidence suggests these children are also at risk for having mental disorders, psychiatric symptoms, and neurodevelopmental challenges, such as autism, ADHD or learning disabilities.

In this analysis of data collected over years from a long-term Finnish preeclampsia study, researchers investigated the risk of mental disorders in offspring of women who had experienced hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. This type of study is challenging, as a large population is needed to be sure any risk is not accidentally increased by other factors. (For example, it is hard to know if a hypertensive pregnancy that results in preterm delivery of a child who then develops autism should be explained by pointing to the hypertensive pregnancy, to the preterm delivery, or to both factors). Researchers were able to control for many of the known risk factors, such as maternal smoking, chronic hypertension in either parent, diabetes, history of mental disorder in either parent, and NICU admission, to examine the impact of maternal hypertensive disorders on mental disorders in the offspring. Results found maternal hypertensive disorders, especially preeclampsia, increased the risk for any childhood mental disorder, and specifically psychological development and behavioral and emotional disorders. 

Take home message: Maternal hypertensive disorders, especially preeclampsia, increase the chance of childhood mental disorders in offspring.  

Studies like this one help parents to be aware of an association between a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy and their child’s mental wellbeing. While it may feel like more dire news on the preeclampsia front, just like with long-term heart risk, knowing of this risk can help you to be aware and provide support resources that you or your child may need.

The risk that any child will develop a mental disorder is small; a doubling of that small number is still a small number, so while being aware of this connection can be helpful, it is not likely that any particular individual will develop problems after a preeclamptic pregnancy.

Link: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/epub/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.119.14140

About Research Roundup

Each quarter, our team of researchers reviews the most current studies related to hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and selects those studies they feel will be of greatest interest to our community to summarize.

Special thanks to our volunteer research team, who under the leadership of Dr. Elizabeth Sutton, make Research Roundup possible: Alisse Hauspurg, MD Felicia LeMoine, MD Jenny Sones, PhD, DVM, and Robin Trupp, PhD, RN.

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