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J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2016;38(5):585-98. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2016.1143453.

Cerebral white matter lesions, subjective cognitive failures, and objective neurocognitive functioning: A follow-up study in women after hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

Author information

a Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology , University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen , Groningen , The Netherlands.
b School for Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences , GSMS BCN-Office, Groningen , The Netherlands.
c Department of Clinical and Developmental Neuropsychology , University of Groningen , Groningen , The Netherlands.
d Department of Radiology , University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen , Groningen , The Netherlands.
e Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology , VU University Medical Center , Amsterdam , The Netherlands.



Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, like preeclampsia, are a leading cause of maternal and fetal morbidity/mortality worldwide. Preeclampsia can be complicated by the occurrence of convulsions (eclampsia). Women who experienced (pre)eclampsia more frequently report daily cognitive failures and showed increased emotional dysfunction several years later, but are not impaired on objective neurocognitive testing. In addition, women with preterm preeclampsia more often have cerebral white matter lesions (WML) on follow-up. We aimed to determine whether WML presence is related to cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in (pre)eclamptic women.


Forty-one eclamptic, 49 preeclamptic, and 47 control women who had a normotensive pregnancy completed the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire (CFQ), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), and a broad neurocognitive test battery (visual perception and speed of information processing, motor functions, working memory, long-term memory, attention, and executive functioning). All underwent cerebral magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and WML presence was recorded. Median elapsed time since index pregnancy was 6 years. Average age was 40 years.


WML were more prevalent in women who had experienced preterm (pre)eclampsia (<37 weeks; 40%) than in controls (21%, p = .03). In (pre)eclamptic women, CFQ and HADS scores were higher than those in controls (44 ± 16.1 vs. 36 ± 11.0, p < .001, and 11 ± 6.3 vs. 8 ± 5.5, p < .001). There was no difference in objective cognitive performance as measured by neurocognitive tests. Subjective and objective cognitive functioning, anxiety, and depressive symptoms were not related to WML presence.


Formerly (pre)eclamptic women report cognitive dysfunction, but do not exhibit overt cognitive impairment when objectively tested on average 6 years following their pregnancy. The presence of WML is not related to objective nor to subjective cognitive impairment, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Longitudinal studies are needed to study whether the presence of WML is a risk factor for developing objective cognitive impairment in the long term.


Anxiety; Depression; Neurocognition; Preeclampsia; White matter hyperintensities

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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