Blood Pressure and Brain Damage

High blood pressure in middle age was linked with early signs of damage to the brain

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Controlling blood pressure is important for heart health. A recent study suggested it may also be important for brain heath.

A recent study used brain scans to look for loss of brain tissue and related that to whether or not people had high blood pressure. Results showed that middle-aged people with high blood pressure had more signs of brain damage than people with normal blood pressure.

The authors suggested that earlier detection and treatment of high blood pressure may be important for brain health as people age.

"See your doctor for a blood pressure check."

Previous research has linked high blood pressure with cognitive decline in the elderly.

In this study, researchers led by Pauline Maillard, PhD, of the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California Davis, wanted to know how early signs of brain damage might show up for people with high blood pressure.

They enrolled 579 people who were part of the larger Framingham Heart Study, which tracks heart health in people in Framingham, Mass. 

Participants had a magnetic resonance image (MRI) scan and were interviewed about their history of stroke and signs of dementia. Each participant also had two separate blood pressure readings.

Normal blood pressure is 120/80. For this study, high blood pressure was defined as a top number greater than 140 or a bottom number greater than 90.

The researchers found that older people in the study had more signs of brain damage.

People with high blood pressure had more signs of damage to certain brain areas than people with normal blood pressure.

The authors concluded that high blood pressure may be related to some small changes in the brain during middle adulthood. They suggested that controlling blood pressure early in life may be important for maintaining brain function as people age.

One limitation of the study was that it did not show that high blood pressure actually caused brain damage. The authors noted this limitation, but said that this study adds to the mounting evidence that cardiovascular health is important for brain health as people age.

The study was published in the December issue of The Lancet Neurology. The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institute on Aging; and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
January 23, 2013
Last Updated:
January 25, 2013