High Blood Pressure in Linked to Dementia in Older Women

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has completed a study showing that high blood pressure may put women at greater risk for dementia later in life by increasing white matter abnormalities in the brain.

“Hypertension is very common in the U.S. and many other countries, and can lead to serious health problems,” said Lewis Kuller, M.D., Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “Proper control of blood pressure, which remains generally poor, may be very important to prevent dementia as women age.”

The study was conducted on over 1,400 women 65 or older who had their blood pressure checked annually. Participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and researchers assessed white matter lesions, which are associated with increased risks for dementia and stroke. White matter makes up 60 percent of the brain and contains nerve fibers responsible for communication among the brain’s regions.

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The MRI scans showed that women with blood pressureof 140/90 or higher had significantly more white matter lesions on their scans eight years later than participants with normal blood pressure. Lesions were more common in the frontal lobe, the brain’s emotional control center and home to personality, than in the occipital, parietal or temporal lobes.

Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

When the heart pumps blood into the arteries, the blood flows with a force pushing against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is the product of the flow of blood times the resistance in the blood vessels. High blood pressure is also called hypertension. Having high blood pressure is a silent killer because there are very little symptoms. Stroke and heart attacks are the major threats by this condition.

Kuller states that "Women should be encouraged to control high blood pressure when they are young or in middle-age in order to prevent serious problems later on. Prevention and control of elevated blood pressure and subsequent vascular disease in the brain may represent the best current preventive therapy for dementia."

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