Pregnant women with hypertensive disorders, particularly preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure during pregnancy, are at greater risk of having children with mental health issues, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland.
Women were recruited into the study in early pregnancy at Finnish maternity hospitals. The children in the study were born between 2006 and 2010 and were tracked until the end of 2016 when they were 6.4 to 10.8 years old. Mental disorders were identified from Care Register for Health Care.
Overall, the research team looked at 4,743 mother-child pairs and found a link between hypertensive pregnancy disorders, including chronic hypertension (high blood pressure), gestational hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia, and childhood mental disorders.
Preeclampsia is a common pregnancy complication often characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, which can indicate damage to other organs including the liver and kidneys. Eclampsia is a severe complication of preeclampsia in which high blood pressure during pregnancy results in seizures.
The study findings show that maternal preeclampsia and its severity are linked to an increase in the risk of any childhood mental disorder and psychological development and behavioral and emotional disorders.
Specifically, the research team found a 66 percent higher risk of mental health disorders among children whose mothers had preeclampsia. They also found a two-fold higher risk of childhood mental health issues among children whose mothers had severe preeclampsia.
“While previous studies have shown significant effects of preeclampsia on ADHD, autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia in the offspring, a novel aspect of our findings was that the predisposing effects of maternal preeclampsia extended to any childhood mental disorder in the offspring,” said Dr. Marius Lahti-Pulkkinen, one of the senior researchers of the study and a docent at the University of Helsinki.
The research team also noted that the combination of maternal hypertensive disorders, overweight/obesity and diabetes disorders in pregnancy increases the cumulative prevalence of childhood mental disorders from 6.6 percent among children of mothers with none of those conditions to 22.2 percent in offspring exposed to all three of these negative maternal conditions.
In addition, the link between the mother’s preeclampsia and mental disorders in her offspring could not be explained by her own mental health disorders, age, substance use, number of previous pregnancies, education, overweight/obesity or diabetes disorders or by the father’s mental or hypertensive disorders.
“The findings emphasize the need for preventive interventions and treatments for maternal hypertensive disorders, since such interventions have the potential to benefit both the well-being of the expectant mother and her offspring,” said Lahti-Pulkkinen.
“The findings also shed important new light on the etiology of childhood mental disorders. This information may help in targeting preventive interventions and support for families at risk, and aid clinicians in understanding issues and the underlying causes of childhood mental disorders.”
Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are also key risk factors for maternal mortality, stillbirth, preterm birth and intrauterine growth restriction, and these disorders can predict cardiovascular morbidity in the mother and her offspring.
The study is published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.
Source: American Heart Association