Now there is one more reason to keep our blood pressure at a healthy level -- looking after our hearts helps our minds. It's common knowledge hypertension can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. A recent French study has proven what doctors have long suspected -- hypertension can also lead to abnormalities in the brain.
What is high blood pressure?
About five million Canadians suffer from high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood in the arteries when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when it is at rest (diastolic pressure). High blood pressure is defined as anything above 140 mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) systolic pressure, and 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure. Hyertension is more common in adults, and especially prevalent in those who are obese, heavy drinkers, smokers, or have a family history of the disorder.
How is blood pressure linked to brain health?
French researchers found that high blood pressure can lead to small lesions on the brain, called white matter hyperintensities (WMH). WMH are associated with a range of problems, including depression and dementia. A high incidence rate of WMH can also lead to memory problems, while indicating a greater risk of stroke.
The study was published in published in Circulation, the American Heart Association's journal. It included 192 patients, average age of 60, who had had some form of stroke in the previous five years. All of the participants suffered from hypertension and about half were being treated for it. For the duration of the study, the participants were treated with either blood pressure medication or a placebo. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was taken of their brains at the outset of the study, and then repeated three years later to see whether there had been any progression of the tell-tale white lesions associated with WMH.
By the end of the project, 26 participants had acquired new WMH. However, the risk was reduced by 43 per cent amongst those who were in the treatment group compared with those who received a placebo. Those in the treatment group with severe WMH showed no signs of progression, unlike those in the placebo group. Additionally, those who were treated showed a significant drop in blood pressure.
What contributes to high blood pressure?
This study provides further evidence that there is a link between cognitive functioning and blood pressure. Poor memory, senility and dementia -- all 'typical' signs of old age -- may prove to be preventable. Very simply, it is a question of lifestyle. Smoking, heavy drinking, excessive weight and a sedentary routine are all contributing factors to high blood pressure.
Adults, especially those over the age of 50, should be diligent about their physical check-ups -- and make sure that their blood pressure levels are consistently monitored. Other easy preventative measures include reducing the amount of salt in food, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and restricting alcohol consumption to one drink a day.
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