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High Blood Pressure Deemed Worst Possible Condition for Brain

high blood pressure and brain

Hypertension (high blood pressure) can have devastating health consequences if not treated, including increasing your chances of developing dementia.


The American Heart Association has made a bold statement about the hazards of uncontrolled high blood pressure, calling it “the worst possible thing for the brain,” as noted by Weill Cornell Medical College professor of neurology and neuroscience Dr. Costantino Iadecola.

High blood pressure, particularly in middle age, might open the door to dementia in later years.

"If hypertension is allowed to smolder along untreated through midlife, then initiating blood pressure control in late life may not show benefit, or may even be harmful," said Dr. Sam Gandy, director for the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital.

The American Heart Association states that about 80 million US adults have been diagnosed with hypertension. Unfortunately, though, many people are unaware they have it, because there may not be any overt symptoms. The organization recommends that all adults over the age of 20 get their blood pressure checked regularly (at least once every two years) with their primary care physician so that they can track trends and catch hypertension before it causes too much damage.

What is High Blood Pressure?

One of the jobs of your arteries is to carry oxygen (via red blood cells) to your body tissues. The heart beats to push blood through this network and creates pressure. Obviously, some pressure is necessary to get the blood and oxygen where it needs to go, but too much force can cause damage to the blood vessel walls.

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When this occurs, the blood vessels could eventually become weak and more prone to rupture. Hemorrhagic strokes and aneurysms are caused by ruptures in the blood vessels. The overstretching of the blood vessels due to excessive pressure can also lead to tiny tears and scarring. These could build to form a blockage which could lead to heart attack or stroke.

Inadequate blood flow damages and eventually kills cells anywhere in the body – and the brain is most vulnerable. Vascular dementia is widely considered the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for 10% of cases.

Reduce Your Risk of High Blood Pressure

There are several healthy lifestyle steps you can take to keep blood pressure within a healthy range.
• Improve your diet – eat fewer processed foods and more fresh, whole foods. The DASH diet has been shown to have positive influence on blood pressure.
• Exercise – regular daily exercise is good for your cardiovascular system, keeping your blood vessels in top performing condition.
• Shed extra weight – Even just a modest weight loss can have a big impact on your blood pressure.

Costantino Iadecola, M.D., professor, neurology and neuroscience, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City; Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., director, Center for Cognitive Health, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City; Oct. 10, 2016, Hypertension, online

Additional Resources:
Alzheimer’s Association
American Heart Association
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Photo Credit:
By Charlie Helmholt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons