Hypertension in young adults has been found to alter brain structure and lead to cognitive decline in midlife. The result of interrupted blood flow to the brain was found by researchers who presented their findings in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
Along with a change in brain structure, hypertension can affect everything from kidney functions to arteries, eyesight, and sexual function. These effects can eventually lead to strokes, heart attacks, and impaired mobility.
The study was led by Prof. Farzaneh A. Sorond and Dr. Simin Mahinrad of Northwestern University’s Department of Neurology. It included approximately 200 young adults with an average age of 24 at the beginning of the study.
“We find that the deleterious effects of elevated blood pressure on brain structure and function begin in early adulthood. This demonstrates the need for preventive measures of high blood pressure even at this early age,” explains Prof. Sorond. “We know that poor gait and cognitive function among older adults are associated with and predict multiple adverse health outcomes like cognitive decline, dementia, falls and death. Our study shows that the time to treat high blood pressure and to minimize future changes in gait and cognition is much earlier, decades earlier than previously thought.”
Multiple Testing Measures
Researchers came to this conclusion by assessing the blood pressure, gait, and cognition of all participants who were followed for over 30 years. In the last year of follow-up, gait was assessed using a gait mat while cognitive function was evaluated using neurological tests. The level of white matter intensity—symptoms of cardiovascular disease—in the brain was measured using MRIs.
Researchers noted that gait impairment could be an earlier hallmark of hypertensive brain injury than cognitive deficits.
“Higher cumulative blood pressure was associated with slower walking speed, smaller step length and higher gait variability,” Prof. Sorond says. “Higher cumulative blood pressure was also associated with lower cognitive performance in the executive, memory and global domains.”
“Our takeaway is this: Even in young adults, blood pressure has significant implications, even at levels below the ‘hypertension’ threshold, and is important to assess and modify for future cognitive function and mobility.”
No matter what age, hypertension is a dangerous warning sign that should be taken seriously. This study helps to outline the fact that the effects of high blood pressure can cause multiple health problems and preventative measures should be taken to avoid risk factors.
Young adults should be aware of the complications that could occur from hypertension, and lifestyle changes should be made to help lower blood pressure. Consuming a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise can go a long way towards helping to prevent high blood pressure.