High Blood Pressure May Predict Mental Decline

Cognitive impairment was more likely in patients with untreated high blood pressure

(RxWiki News) High blood pressure is associated with serious medical issues like heart disease and stroke. But it may also affect mental clarity later in life.

Researchers recently found that patients with high blood pressure in midlife lost more mental function than patients with normal blood pressure.

The biggest spike in loss of brain function was associated with untreated high blood pressure.

"Learn to keep track of your blood pressure."

The study was conducted by Rebecca F. Gottesman, MD, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and colleagues.

The authors used data from Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities, a previous study, which compared high blood pressure effects with tests of brain function.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects 1 in 3 US adults, the study authors reported. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease or failure, stroke and other conditions.

The researchers studied 13,476 patients, with follow-up conducted for up to 23.5 years.

During the more than 20-year study period, those who started with high blood pressure showed a decline of 0.056 points as measured by tests of brain function.

Study participants who started with prehypertension, meaning they were at risk of developing high blood pressure, were “non-significantly” associated with a decrease of 0.040 points on the cognition scale used in the study.

Study participants who used medication to treat hypertension had a decline of 0.050 points. Those whose condition went untreated lost more brain function — at 0.079 points.

A lower level of brain function can lead to dementia, which is a loss of brain function that hampers a person’s ability to perform daily tasks.

“Although we note a relatively modest additional [cognitive] decline associated with hypertension, lower cognitive performance increases the risk for future dementia,” the study authors wrote. “Epidemiological data, including our own study, support midlife [blood pressure] as a more important predictor of — and possibly target for prevention of — late-life cognitive function than is later-life [blood pressure].”

The study was published online Aug. 4 by the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Neurology.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provided funding.

One study co-author disclosed serving as a deputy editor for the journal, as well as past and ongoing service roles with private companies.

Review Date: 
August 4, 2014