High blood pressure may cause brain lesions, Alzheimer’s markers


High blood pressure may cause brain lesions, Alzheimer’s markers

Controlling high blood pressure is one of the most important health issues each of us should do.  High blood pressure or hypertension is linked with increasing the risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.  Now, a new study is saying that high blood pressure later in life may contribute to blood vessel blockages and tangles liked to brain lesions and Alzheimer’s disease.

What the study found

Scientists from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago tracked almost 1,300 older people until their death, which occurred at an average age of nearly 89.  Two-thirds of the participants, who were mostly women, had a history of high blood pressure, and 87 percent took blood pressure medication.

What the scientists found was markedly higher risks of one or more brain lesions among those with high systolic blood pressure readings.   Healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).  The top number or systolic pressure is when the pressure in blood vessels is highest when the heart takes a beat, while the bottom number or diastolic pressure is when the heart is at rest or between beats.

In November 2017, the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association changed blood pressure recommendations, defining high blood pressure as 130/80 mmHg or higher.

The average systolic number blood pressure for the adults in the study was 134 mmHg and the average diastolic was 72 mmHg. Two-thirds of the participants had a history of high blood pressure and 87 percent of participants were taking medications for high blood pressure. Almost half, 48 percent, of people had one or more brain infarct which are areas of dead tissue caused by blood supply blockage.

The study showed that the higher the blood pressure, the greater the chance of brain lesions.  For example, those with a systolic reading of 147 instead of the average of 134 had a 46 percent increased risk of having one or more large brain lesions or the equivalent of nine years of brain aging. These same people also had a 36 percent increased risk of having very small lesions.

Even those who had a higher diastolic blood pressure were also at risk for brain infarct lesions. Participants with diastolic pressure of 79 mmHg or higher, had a 28 percent greater risk of one or more brain lesions.

The link between high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease may also have been found when researchers discovered a higher number of tangles in the brain of participants who died during the study and had higher systolic blood pressure in the years before their death.  Tangles are knots of brain cells signifying the presence of Alzheimer’s.

One important finding from the study was that rapidly decreasing blood pressure in older adults actually increased stroke risk. A potential reason for this is that arteries become less elastic with age, so slightly higher blood pressure is necessary to keep blood flowing adequately.

Message from this study

Bottom line, the takeaway from this study is to remind everyone to have regular checks of their blood pressure taken and if it is high, to practice ways of controlling it.  Fortunately, there are many lifestyle modifications a person can do to either prevent or treat high blood pressure.  The sooner in life one adopts these changes, the greater the likelihood they can avoid or reduce the risk of it developing to begin with.


Here are ways a person can help themselves reduce high blood pressure:


·      Weight reduction – Maintain a healthy body weight (Body Mass Index or BMI of 18.5-24.9).

·      DASH eating plan Adopt the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk products with reduced saturated fat intake.

·      Sodium restriction Reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and further reduce intake to 1,500 milligrams among people with prehypertension or hypertension for greater reductions in blood pressure.

·      Physical activity – Perform aerobic physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day, most days of the week.

·      Moderate alcohol consumption – Men: limit to 2 drinks per day; women: limit to 1 drink per day.

There are also several medications to treat hypertension.  The category of medication your doctor may prescribe depends on your blood pressure measurements and other medical problems.