Researchers have found that high blood pressure in their forties and fifties affects the brain significantly later in life.
A study based on brain scans of 37,000 people shows that high blood pressure in middle age – even at levels that normally do not require medical treatment – leads to extensive damage to the “white matter” of the brain.
This can lead to dementia, stroke, physical disability, and depression later in life.
Worryingly, Oxford University researchers found that even small increases in blood pressure – at levels that are normally not considered a problem – can make a big difference to the brain.
Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers, systolic – the upper number – and diastolic – the lower.
It is currently believed that people in the UK have high blood pressure when the blood pressure is over 140/90.
The researchers found that for every 10 point increase in systolic blood pressure above that level, white matter damage increased by about 13 percent.
A study by researchers at Oxford University, based on brain scans of 37,000 people, found that elevated blood pressure in middle age – even at levels that normally do not require drug treatment – leads to extensive damage to the “white matter” of the brain ) leads image)
And for every 5 point increase in diastolic blood pressure, the damage increased 11 percent.
And the scientists also found evidence of damage from lower blood pressure – with some people showing brain damage at systolic levels above 120 and diastolic levels above 70.
The results, published in the European Heart Journal, come from a study of 37,041 participants aged 40 to 69 who took part in the UK biobank project.
Researchers looked at MRI brain scans to look for “white matter hyperintensities” – signs of damage to the small blood vessels in the brain.
This damage is linked to serious problems in old age, including a general decline in thinking skills and the development of dementia and mental health problems.
The researcher Dr. Karolina Wartolowska, of the Oxford Center for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia, said, “Not all people develop these changes with age, but they happen in more than 50 percent of patients over 65 and most people over 65 to 80, too without high blood pressure, but it is more likely that it will develop and become severe with higher blood pressure. ‘
Among the top 10 percent of people with the greatest brain damage, 24 percent of that damage could be due to systolic blood pressure above 120 and 7 percent due to diastolic blood pressure above 70.
Dr. Wartolowska said, “We have two important lessons. First, the study showed that diastolic blood pressure in people in their forties and fifties was linked to greater brain damage years later.
“This means that not only the systolic blood pressure, the first, higher number, but also the diastolic blood pressure, the second, lower number, is important in order to prevent damage to the brain tissue.
“Many people may think of high blood pressure and stroke as diseases of the elderly, but our results suggest that if we want to keep a healthy brain well into our 60s and 70s, we may need to ensure our blood pressure, including diastolic pressure , stays in a healthy range when we are in our 40s and 50s. ‘
She added, “The second important finding is that any increase in blood pressure above normal is associated with a higher amount of white matter hyperintensities.
This suggests that even slightly elevated blood pressure before it meets the criteria for treating high blood pressure has a deleterious effect on brain tissue.
Worryingly, Oxford University researchers found that even small increases in blood pressure – at levels that are normally not considered a problem – can make a big difference to the brain
‘Our results suggest that to ensure the best prevention of white matter hyperintensities later in life, especially in early midlife, diastolic blood pressure control may be required, even if diastolic blood pressure is below 90, while systolic blood pressure control may be required can be more important in later life.
‘The long time interval between the effects of mid-life blood pressure and the damage in late life underscores the importance of long-term control of blood pressure and that research must adapt to account for the very long-term effects of often asymptomatic problems in the middle of life. ‘
Dr. Richard Oakley, director of research for the Alzheimer’s Society, which co-funded the study, said, “High blood pressure affects not only our hearts but our heads as well.
“While this study did not seek a specific association between blood pressure and dementia, it is an important step forward in understanding how high blood pressure is related to changes in the brain that can increase our risk of dementia.”
“With few dementia treatments available and researchers still looking for a cure, it is important that we do everything we can to keep our minds and bodies healthy.”