Hypertensive pregnancy disorders may affect the fetal developmental milieu and thus hint at mechanisms that link prenatal conditions with later developmental outcomes of the offspring. Here, we systematically review studies that have tested whether maternal pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, and hypertensive pregnancy disorders as a single diagnostic entity are associated with cognitive functioning of the offspring. Twenty-six studies were eligible for this review. Of them, 19 provided detailed methodological information deemed necessary to be included for a more detailed review. An overall conclusion is that, in the general population, maternal hypertensive disorders may be associated with lower cognitive ability of the offspring. Studies that extend to adulthood show the most consistent pattern of findings. It is possible that the associations arise during the lifetime or that the findings reflect improvements in management of these disorders. Evidence is, however, insufficient to conclude whether these associations are dissimilar in the offspring exposed to maternal pre-eclampsia and gestational hypertension, due to the varied criteria used across the different studies to distinguish between these conditions. The existing studies also vary in the definition of control groups, and very few have taken into account important confounding factors, including maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and lifestyle behaviors. Given the mixed pattern of findings and limitations related to internal and external validity, further studies are clearly warranted to clarify the associations.
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