For hypertensive adults, the need to maintain healthy blood pressure is a given. But a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that beyond its usual benefits, having a systolic blood pressure (SBP) of less than 120 mmHg is associated with fewer negative outcomes in the brain. The report, funded by the National Institute of Health through the SPRINT Research Group, noted that the target SBP was linked to significantly lower amounts of white matter lesions in the brain, which could lower a person’s risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.
The benefit of good blood pressure control
Blood pressure refers to the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. It’s measured using millimeters of mercury, or mmHg, and is given as two figures:
- Systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart pushes blood out, represented by the first number
- Diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats, represented by the second number
Having elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and even death. This makes managing blood pressure important, especially for those diagnosed with the condition.
In the study, the team recruited a total of 670 adults aged 50 or older with systolic blood pressure between 130 and 180 mmHg at baseline. The participants then underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at baseline and after four years during follow-up. The team looked at whether intensive blood pressure treatment can lead to positive outcomes for cerebral matter white lesions and brain volume.
The team found that those who achieved an SBP of 120 mmHg or less had a significantly lower amount of white matter lesions in their brains, compared to those who maintained 140 mmHG, the current standard for healthy blood pressure. This means that blood pressure can play a role in neurodegenerative diseases, as well as become a viable option for treating hypertension.
“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,” explained senior author R. Nick Bryan. (Related: Obesity accelerates cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease progression.)
Effects of high blood pressure on the brain
Having a healthy blood pressure is important, as many parts of the body need it to function properly. If a person’s blood pressure is too high, it can cause organs to suffer and malfunction. Hypertension, in particular, can lead to stroke and other life-threatening complications in the brain.
Hypertension is also difficult to observe, as it does not have any symptoms at its onset. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less damaging. A study published in the Lancet revealed that uncontrolled high blood pressure could damage the brain’s structure. In their report, researchers from the University of California, Davis found that the “silent” damage caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in significant physical and cognitive impairment later on. They even noted that these adults, while they do not fit the clinical requirement for hypertension, showed noticeable brain damage from uncontrolled high blood pressure.
“This work suggests that recently described white matter microstructural damage associated with high blood pressure in the elderly may be detectable earlier in the life span, further reinforcing the view that vascular brain injury may develop insidiously over several decades,” explained lead author Pauline Maillard, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Davis.
“These results emphasize the need for early and optimum control of blood pressure, which is neither routinely achieved nor subject to testing in randomized controlled clinical trials.”
Learn more about the dangers of high blood pressure at Heart.news.