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Mom's blood pressure may affect child's cognitive ability

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 4th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

High blood pressure or hypertension among expectant mothers may have lasting consequences for a child's cognitive ability, a new study suggests. A study conducted in Finland found that men whose mothers' pregnancies had complications from hypertensive disorders scored lower on tests of cognitive ability than those whose mothers did not.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The study, which appears in the journal Neurology found that about 10 percent of all pregnancies become complicated by hypertensive disorders. Such conditions are linked to premature births and small baby body size. These factors are also linked with lower cognitive ability.

Researchers identified 398 men who had taken a basic ability test for the Finnish Defense Forces twice. The tests were conducted around age 20 and again around age 69. Study authors were able to look at verbal, arithmetic and visuospatial -- which means understanding visual representations and their spatial relationships -- scores.

Information about the mothers' blood pressure and urinary protein were also factored to find out which pregnancies were complicated by hypertension.

The study authors had previously shown that men whose mothers had high blood pressure while pregnant tended to score lower around the 20-year mark than men whose mothers did not.

Men whose mothers had a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy had worse scores on arithmetic reasoning and total cognitive ability in both young adulthood and old age.

These findings suggest that "a propensity toward lower cognitive ability has its origins in the prenatal period, when the majority of the development of brain structure and function occurs," the study said.

Associations with decline were strongest in math reasoning scores. Men's test scores were on average 4.36 points lower on total thinking ability in old age, and 2.88 points lower at age 20.

There were some admitted limitations to the Finish study. Men, not women were surveyed in the study, and only in the nation of Finland. Only men who survived into older age for the second testing were included, so these findings might be biased to already healthy men.

Also, there was not enough data to require two high blood pressure measurements in order to establish hypertensive disorders, so the authors found higher-than-average incidence of these conditions among the mothers in the study.

The results suggest that a person's declines in thinking ability in old age could be tied to his or her mother's high blood pressure disorder whilst in the womb. This theory is only is only through association and not proof. Especially given the limitations of the study, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Separate research has since begun looking for signs for hypertensive disorders in pregnant women.

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