High BP in Middle Age Can Harm Your Brain

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay reporter

TUESDAY, December 15, 2020 (HealthDay News) – High blood pressure can start to affect memory and thinking skills in middle age, new Brazilian research warns.

And you won’t be spared just by keeping high blood pressure at bay until you hit your golden years, as the study found that even those who didn’t develop high blood pressure before they became Seniors always experienced a faster decline in their thinking skills than those who continued to stay heart healthy during their golden years.

“In practice, this suggests that we must prevent hypertension at any age in order to avoid its deleterious effect on [thinking] decline, ”said study author Dr Sandhi Barreto, professor of medicine at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Whether high blood pressure directly triggers mental decline remains an open question, however, given that “proving causation is very difficult,” Barreto said.

But even if that’s the case, that’s not all bad news, she added, as the findings also indicate that thinking skills can be preserved – or at least slowed down – by bringing high blood pressure under control. through medication and lifestyle changes.

In the study, around 7,000 participants were from six Brazilian cities and were around 59, on average, when they first enrolled in the study.

The blood pressure history was noted at the start of the study. And during two testing periods – 2008/2010 and again in 2012/2014 – participants underwent repeated assessments (for an average of four years) designed to track changes in memory, language skills, concentration, l attention, motor speed and mental flexibility. . “

The team eventually found that middle-aged and older participants whose upper blood pressure (systolic) and lower (diastolic) numbers were judged to be ‘high’ experienced some form of accelerated decline in their thinking skills. , compared to those who maintained normal blood pressure readings.

Memory has been struck by anyone with high blood pressure, whether they were initially diagnosed before or after the age of 55, as these people saw their scores on all of the collective thinking skills tests begin. to lower.


The speed at which thinking skills began to decline does not appear to have any relation to the length of time a patient lives with high blood pressure.

Yet there was one exception to the rule: Those who lowered their blood pressure by taking medication or adopting meaningful lifestyles experienced a decline in their thinking skills much slower than those who did not. made.

“Preventing high blood pressure is always preferred,” Barreto pointed out, but taking steps to address the problem once it sets in can “prevent further damage to cognitive function”.

There may be a limit to how lowering blood pressure can help maintain brain health, however, warned Dr. Gregg Fonarow, acting head of the Cardiology Division at the University of California, Los Angeles. .

“Randomized clinical trials of reductions in systolic blood pressure have produced mixed results on whether a drop in blood pressure can reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment,” he noted.

For example, another recent study found that adults who brought their systolic blood pressure back to normal do not see their risk of dementia drop compared to those with blood pressure as high as 139. They have, however, reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment, Fonarow noted, but “more studies are needed regarding brain health and blood pressure. arterial. “

Meanwhile, keeping high blood pressure under control is still a smart move, he said, as it “has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke. cerebral and premature cardiovascular death “.

The results were published on December 14 in the journal Hypertension.

More information

There is more information on high blood pressure and brain health at the US National Institute on Aging.

SOURCES: Sandhi M. Barreto, MD, M.Sc., Ph.D., professor, medicine, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Gregg Fonarow, MD, Acting Head, Division of Cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles, and Director, Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center; Hypertension, December 14, 2020

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