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Could Preeclampsia Affect Your Brain?

Last Updated on Wednesday, April 04, 2012

At the Society for Gynecologic Investigation (SGI) Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego, Calif., in March, the Preeclampsia Foundation, in collaboration with lead authors Dr. Ineke Postma, Dr. Gerda Zeeman, Dr H. Groen of the University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands, and Dr. Thomas Easterling of the University of Washington, presented a poster on cognition, quality of life and social functioning after a hypertensive pregnancy. Many formerly preeclamptic women report difficulties with memory or word choice postpartum, but so do many women with normal pregnancy courses. The unanswered question: what is the likelihood that preeclampsia causes brain changes independent of pregnancy itself? If there are preeclampsia-specific changes, can those be separated from the trauma of a medical crisis?

Enrolling more than 1,000 participants in this study, the Preeclampsia Foundation's survey queried women with (cases) and without (controls) a history of hypertension in pregnancy. Participants anonymously completed an online survey assessing their cognitive functions, their quality of life, and their social functioning. The study found that the population of women with a history of preeclampsia scored statistically significantly lower on all three assessments. Although there was significant overlap between the populations, the average score for the populations as a whole was shifted - which suggests that there is actually real change triggered by preeclampsia - and that shift persisted after the populations were adjusted for things that could potentially affect the scores, like current use of blood pressure medication.  Seizure was particularly strongly correlated with long-term cognitive difficulty. The study will also be presented in July at the International Society for the Study of Hypertension in Pregnancy (ISSHP) World Congress in Geneva, Switzerland.

"More and more information is emerging suggesting that preeclampsia is a condition with long term implications," explained the lead author on the study, Dr. Ineke Postma. "Preeclampsia can be a very emotional and sometimes traumatizing experience with some women complaining about ongoing memory or attention-deficit problems. In order to provide adequate long term support to preeclampsia survivors, we need to identify the actual scope of the problem. This study is an important step in that direction."   

Although this study used subjective neurocognitive testing (that is, the questions and test were not administered by a separate researcher, but self-reported), the study has some potential weaknesses, but it is an important step to investigating this question: does preeclampsia result in some level of permanent damage to your brain?

These kinds of research collaborations are but one way we catalyze research. See our research section for more information about our research initiatives.

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