Blood pressure response to psychological stressors in adults after prenatal exposure to the Dutch famine

Rebecca C. Painter, Susanne R. de Rooij, Patrick M. Bossuyt, David I. Phillips, Clive Osmond, David J. Barker, Otto P. Bleker, Tessa J. Roseboom

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OBJECTIVE: There is increasing evidence that restricted prenatal growth is associated with exaggerated blood pressure responses to stress. We investigated the effect of maternal undernutrition on the adult offspring's stress response. DESIGN: A historical cohort study. METHODS: We performed continuous blood pressure and heart rate measurements during a battery of three 5-min physiological stress tests (Stroop test, mirror-drawing test and a public speech task) in 721 men and women, aged 58 years, born as term singletons in Amsterdam at about the time of the Dutch 1944-1945 famine. RESULTS: During the stress tests, the systolic blood pressure (SBP) rose from baseline by 20 mmHg during the Stroop test, by 30 mmHg during the mirror-drawing test and by 47 mmHg during the public speech task. The SBP and diastolic blood pressure increase during stress was highest among individuals exposed to famine in early gestation compared with unexposed subjects (4 mmHg extra systolic increase, P = 0.04; 1 mmHg diastolic increase, P = 0.1, both adjusted for sex). Exposure during mid and late gestation was not associated with a stress-related increment of blood pressure (P adjusted for sex > 0.6). Correcting for confounders in a multivariable model did not attenuate the association between famine exposure in early gestation and the SBP increment. The heart rate increment was not related to famine exposure during any part of gestation. CONCLUSION: We found a greater blood pressure increase during stress among individuals exposed to famine in early gestation. Increased stress responsiveness may underlie the known association between coronary heart disease and exposure to famine in early gestation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1771-1778
JournalJournal of Hypertension
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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