When it comes to blood pressure and overall health, most specialists take a close look at systolic blood pressure. But depending on what you’re looking for, diastolic blood pressure might show you a lot.
Systolic blood pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading and is generally recognized as an indicator of heart disease. A new study is showing that diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number of a reading, may indicate the risk for stroke, falls, thinking, and memory.
Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure exerted by blood on arteries when your heartbeats. Diastolic measures pressure in between beats. Systolic blood pressure higher than 120 is considered high, as is diastolic pressure higher than 80.
Researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that higher diastolic blood pressure was associated with higher levels of scars and lesions in the brain. These scars, called white matter lesions, are linked with a number of degenerative conditions.
The study looked at over 1,200 women and men age 50 or older. Along with having their blood pressure measured, they underwent MRI scans in various regions of the brain. Researchers noted a strong correlation between high diastolic pressure and white matter lesions in the periventricular region of the brain. Lesions in this area are closely associated with cognitive problems.
Lesions in this area can lead to problems with muscle movement, sensation, thinking, and memory. They block the transmission of messages that occur in white matter, leading to degenerative effects.
All of this can boost the risk for falls and dementia. Ten to twenty percent of people have white matter lesions by age 60, but it’s possible that keeping blood pressure in a healthy range can limit the size and amount of the lesions.
Blood pressure is about more than just a risk for heart disease. It might also indicate your risk for dementia, falls, and brain function. In the past, diastolic blood pressure has been viewed with reduced significance in comparison to systolic; these findings may change that.
You can protect your heart and mind by working towards lower blood pressure through a healthy diet, increased activity, and stress management.