Here’s How Your Pregnancy Could Determine Your Dementia Risk

Through the years, doctors have discovered several factors that may play a role in whether or not someone gets diagnosed with dementia. But the most recent discovery happens long before you might even think about dementia — it happens during pregnancy. Doctors believe that a woman’s pregnancy may hold significant clues as to whether or not she’ll have dementia in later years. The risk might lie in whether she has preeclampsia.

Pregnant woman with her doctor

Problems during pregnancy may correlate with dementia. | Vasyl Dolmatov/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Preeclampsia affects 1 in 14 pregnant women

Preeclampsia is a condition that affects one out of 14 pregnant women, and it’s a condition most women are aware of when they become pregnant. It is characterized by very high blood pressure during pregnancy and is sometimes referred to as pregnancy-induced hypertension. Elevated blood pressure, swelling, and protein in the urine all occur and affect both the mother and the fetus. Although the disease was recognized as early as 2,000 years ago, the cause for it has never been greatly understood. The disease can show itself at any point in the pregnancy, but it typically doesn’t appear until the third trimester and goes away about  two days after the baby is born.

Preeclampsia could triple the risk of certain forms of dementia

Preeclampsia has always been a dangerous disease, but a new study links it to something equally as dangerous: Dementia. Vascular dementia, which is caused by reduced blood supply to the brain, showed a direct correlation to women who had previously suffered from preeclampsia. With vascular dementia, diseased blood vessels reduce the brain’s blood supply. This causes cells to die, leading to memory loss and confusion.

A study out of Denmark examined women who had given birth at least once between 1978 and 2015. It found that women with a history of preeclampsia were about three times more likely to develop vascular dementia in old age than women with no history of the disease. The study also noticed that late-onset dementia (dementia that isn’t diagnosed until after age 65) was more common among the women with a preeclampsia history than early-onset dementia. However, the study was purely observational, so it could not determine that preeclampsia actually causes dementia. Still, the results show that there is likely a correlation between the two.

Dementia is more likely to occur in women than men

As a whole, dementia is far more common in women than men. About one in three people over age 65 will develop dementia in their lifetime, and two out of three of those diagnosed are women. It isn’t well understood why dementia is more common in women, but researchers suspect there could be several factors at play. Women tend to live longer than men, and the longer a woman lives, the more time she has to develop cognitive impairment. Also, women are more likely to carry a variant of the gene that plays a role in dementia risk. Now, with this new information about preeclampsia, pregnancy might also play a role in a woman’s risk of dementia.

There is no cure for dementia, but these breakthroughs help

Dementia does not have a cure. Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients may be prescribed drugs in an attempt to slow down their cognitive impairment, but nothing has been proven truly efficient. However, when researchers discover a new connection between dementia and another factor, it helps. Knowing that women with preeclampsia may be at a greater risk for dementia can help doctors develop theories that may determine how dementia develops in one’s brain.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!