Expectant mothers' high blood pressure heightens kids' risk of stroke later in life, a Swedish study finds.
"Our findings indicate that hypertensive disorders during pregnancy are associated with increased risks of stroke and potentially heart disease in offspring up to the age of 41 years," said study author Fen Yang, a doctoral student at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
The study included more than 5.8 million children born in Sweden starting in 1973 and in Finland starting in 1987. Both groups were followed until 2014.
Of those children, nearly 4% were born to mothers who had high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy. Over the 41 years of follow-up, 0.04% of the offspring were diagnosed with heart disease and 0.09% with stroke.
Those whose mothers had high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy had a 29% higher risk of heart disease and a 33% higher risk of stroke, the study found. The associations were apart from preterm birth and fetal growth.
But when researchers focused only on siblings, the link remained for stroke but not for heart disease, according to findings presented Tuesday at an online conference of the European Society of Cardiology. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Yang said studies with longer follow-up are needed to confirm the findings and clarify the possible explanations.
"The sibling analyses suggest that shared genetic or environmental factors were the main contributors to the association between hypertensive pregnancy disorders and the risk of ischemic heart disease," she said in a society news release. "However, the increased risk of stroke persisted, indicating the possibility of direct intrauterine effect."
Yang noted that little research has been done in this area. Because this was an observational study, it does not prove cause and effect, only that there is a link between a pregnant woman's blood pressure and future health risks for her offspring.
"If our findings are supported by further studies, steps could be taken to prevent cardiovascular disease in offspring exposed to hypertensive pregnancy disorders - for example by focusing on maternal health and screening children for risk factors like high blood pressure early in life," Yang said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on high blood pressure during pregnancy.
SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, news release, June 1, 2021