New research shows how intensive blood pressure control could help to control adverse changes in brain health. It has previously been shown that those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of dementia and other cognitive impairments.
According to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the standard control that is currently used to treat high blood pressure could be upgraded to lower the risk of cognitive decline, including dementia.
For the study, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of 449 adults showed that those who had intensive blood pressure control, meaning those who achieved systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg, had a small but significantly lower amount of white matter lesions on their brain. They also showed a slightly more significant decrease in brain volume than similar patients who achieved the current standard for healthy blood pressure marked at 140 mm Hg. The American Heart Association considers high blood pressure to be 130 mm Hg or higher.
The participants for the study were of age 50 years and older with an average age of 67 years old, with systolic blood pressure between 130- and 180-mm Hg at baseline and again at four years later, noting brain volume and white matter lesions.
“The great news from this research is that high blood pressure is a treatable condition, and if you treat high blood pressure aggressively, you could have a positive benefit on cognition and brain structure,” said R. Nick Bryan, M.D., Ph.D., chair and professor of the Department of Diagnostic Medicine at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. “Though the benefit may be small, it’s one of the few impactful cognition-related interventions we have.”
White Matter Brain Lesions
White matter brain lesions are well studied and have shown an association with a greater likelihood or intensity of cognitive decline. This study helps to show the association between intensive blood pressure control and brain lesions.
This new research supports the findings of a related study published earlier in the year that showed how intensive blood pressure control is associated with fewer incidents of cognitive adverse events. Both studies are part of a large body of research funded by the NIH. This body of research is known as the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT).
It is designed to determine the protective value of lower blood pressure for kidney, heart, and brain health. Previous studies within SPRINT have also shown that intensive blood pressure control among patients with hypertension is linked to better outcomes in terms of risks of heart attack, heart failure, and death.
Researchers note that the next step in the SPRINT program is to understand the effects of intensive blood pressure control among younger adults. Studies hope to show how aggressive blood pressure treatment should be earlier in life compared to waiting until high blood pressure becomes riskier at an older age.