The Link Between Blood Pressure and Your Brain

Hypertension, cognitive decline might be connected, according to NIH awareness campaign

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) You might control your blood pressure for the sake of avoiding stroke. But did you know high blood pressure (hypertension) might also be tied to dementia?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recently started a campaign called "Mind Your Risks." The goal: to highlight how paying attention to risk factors for stroke, especially high blood pressure, could help middle-aged patients avoid cognitive decline and dementia years down the line.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.

"People need to think about how they can decrease their chances of developing dementia later in life," said NINDS Director Walter J. Koroshetz, MD, in a press release. "With what we now know, controlling hypertension is at the top of the list."

According to the World Heart Federation (WHF), hypertension is the most important risk factor for stroke and is responsible for about 50 percent of ischemic strokes (when a clot blocks a blood vessel leading to the brain). Hypertension also increases the chances of hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel leading to the brain bursts).

That's because hypertension puts strain on blood vessels in the body, causing them to weaken and damage over time.

One of the most common dementia diagnoses, vascular dementia, is potentially avoidable, according to the "Mind Your Risks" campaign. This type of dementia is typically the result of numerous strokes. Hypertension is usually responsible for these strokes, as it puts strain on the arteries.

The campaign goes into detail about the link between hypertension and dementia, explaining that the condition can damage the blood vessels that provide oxygen and essential nutrients to the brain. This typically occurs in midlife, and can lead to cognitive impairment and dementia later on.

"About one in three Americans — around 70 million people — have high blood pressure, and only half of them have their blood pressure under control," said Gary Gibbons, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in the press release.

Aside from lowering high blood pressure, the campaign urges patients to lower their cholesterol, eat healthy, exercise, quit smoking, avoid heavy drinking and keep their diabetes under control.

NINDS is working with Million Hearts, an initiative lead by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The institute is also working with the NIH's National Institute on Aging (NIA), the Administration for Community Living (ACL), and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The campaign was launched Feb. 2. by NINDS.

Information on conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
February 3, 2016
Last Updated:
February 9, 2016