What You Should Know About Dementia Risk and Hypertension During Pregnancy

Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia have been linked to cognitive decline

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by Ray Burow |

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Pregnancy and dementia are conditions we rarely associate with each other, but sadly, there appears to be a connection.

According to a study published in 2019 in the Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences, pregnancy-induced hypertension is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality for pregnant women and their babies. Recently, the condition was also connected to brain aging and vascular dementia.

At this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held in San Diego in late July and early August, findings were presented that linked chronic and gestational hypertension and preeclampsia — high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy and can lead to organ damage — to cognitive decline.

According to the new research, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) happen in about one in seven hospital deliveries. Additionally, “These conditions impact Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American populations at disproportionately high rates,” the association reported.

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Prenatal facts that could add to dementia numbers

Women with a history of severe preeclampsia were found to have higher levels of beta-amyloid protein, a primary characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, in their blood, compared with nonhypertensive pregnancies. Researchers in the Netherlands also found that 15 years after pregnancy, women with prior HDP had 38% more white matter pathology, another predictor of cognitive decline in which brain tissue wears away, compared with women with previous nonhypertensive pregnancy.

Women with a history of HDP also are more susceptible to developing vascular dementia, “a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain,” the association noted.

The takeaway

Demographically speaking, many caregivers and people with cognitive disorders who read this column are likely beyond childbearing age, since most people with Alzheimer’s disease are over the age of 65. Then again, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 25% of caregivers are members of the “sandwich generation,” providing care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease at the same time that they are raising kids. Understanding that hypertension is connected to vascular decline and other dementias is a step closer to preventing the condition in the next generation. This knowledge drives home the importance of early detection of HDP, and we can all be part of that.

Caregivers who become pregnant must get prenatal care. If you are a “sandwich generation” caregiver, care for a loved one with the disease, or care for an elder with the illness and have grandchildren who can become pregnant, pass on this information. Encourage them not to dawdle around about seeing their healthcare provider.

“Considering the serious short- and long-term implications of HDP, early detection and treatment are vital to protect both the pregnant person and baby,” Claire Sexton, senior director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a press release. “These data illuminate the importance of prenatal care and monitoring the long-term health of pregnant people.”

We often blame hormones for what is perceived as odd changes during pregnancy. Suppose your loved one who is pregnant is having trouble with their memory and thinking skills or notices any changes in their cognition. Please encourage them to discuss it with their OB-GYN. Early detection of HDP could save that person from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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