Prenatal hypertension linked to childhood mental health

May 4, 2020

New research by Finnish investigators shows a significant link between maternal hypertension and mental health disorders in children.

New research by Finnish investigators shows a significant link between maternal hypertension and mental health disorders in children. Maternal preeclampsia also may be associated with increased mental, psychological development, and behavioral and emotional disorders in childhood, according to the authors. The findings underscore the need for preventative interventions and treatments and may shed light on the issues and causes of childhood mental disorders.

For the report, published in Hypertension, the researchers analyzed 4,743 mother-child pairs from the larger Prediction and Prevention of Preeclampsia and Intrauterine Growth Restriction study. Women in early pregnancy were recruited from Finnish maternity hospitals and gave birth between 2006 and 2010. Medical records were used to identify hypertensive pregnancy disorders, and clinical visits were used to measure systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Children’s mental disorder diagnoses came from the Care Register for Health Care.

Using Cox Regression, the authors analyzed maternal hypertensive disorders, preeclampsia severity, and maximum blood pressure during pregnancy and its association with any childhood mental disorder, psychological development, and behavioral and emotional disorders in children. Normotensive women were the study’s reference group and children were between ages 6 and 10 years by the end of the analysis.

The researchers found that the prediction of childhood mental, psychological development, behavioral and emotional disorders increased linearly according to maternal preeclampsia severity.

When adjusting samples for maternal obesity and diabetes mellitus, researchers found that severe preeclampsia was significantly associated with any childhood mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders. They also found that maternal mental disorders and paternal hypertensive disorders did not predict the adverse outcomes in childhood, “suggesting that hereditary susceptibility does not explain the associations.”

Additionally, the authors note that “both severe and mild/moderate preeclampsia in current pregnancy predicted increased offspring hazard,” however, “only severe preeclampsia remained associated with any childhood mental behavioral and emotional disorders.”

These findings confirm those from other available studies, which showed similar associations of any hypertensive pregnancy disorder with autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay in children, and preeclampsia or gestational hypertension with adolescent anxiety disorders. 

The researchers ultimately found that maternal pregnancy disorders may increase the risks any childhood mental disorder to children, and that preeclampsia could significantly impact childhood mental health outcomes. To conclude the study, the authors reiterate these results and that they “highlight the adverse intergenerational consequences of maternal preeclampsia on offspring mental health.”