High Blood Pressure at This Age May Increase Dementia Risk

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Doctor checking a patient's blood pressure
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If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure relatively early in life, you may be more likely to develop dementia compared with people who have normal blood pressure, according to recent research.

Those with high blood pressure between the ages of 35 and 44 had a smaller brain size and were more likely to develop dementia, according to findings published in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.

High blood pressure is common among people ages 45 to 64, but it also is becoming more prevalent in younger people, says Dr. Mingguang He, senior author of the study and professor of ophthalmic epidemiology at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

In general, the American Heart Association defines high blood pressure, which is medically known as hypertension, as when the upper (systolic) number is 130 or higher and/or the lower (diasystolic) number is 80 or higher.

For the study, however, a participant was considered to have hypertension if their doctor or hospital records included hypertension diagnosis codes.

Researchers looked at anonymous health information from about 500,000 volunteer participants in the United Kingdom, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements of brain volume.

They discovered that both total brain volume and brain volume in specific regions were smaller in people ages 35 to 54 diagnosed with high blood pressure than in participants without high blood pressure.

In addition, the researchers found that:

  • The risk of dementia from any cause was 61% higher in people diagnosed with high blood pressure between the ages of 35 and 44 compared with those with normal blood pressure.
  • The risk of vascular dementia was 45% higher in the adults diagnosed with hypertension between ages 45 and 54, and 69% higher in those diagnosed between ages 35 and 44. (Vascular dementia is the second-most common type of dementia. It results from conditions that damage brain blood vessels or that impede blood flow and oxygen flow to the brain.)
  • There was no evidence of a relationship between a person’s age at hypertension diagnosis and his or her risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.

In a press release, He says:

“Although the association among hypertension, brain health and dementia in later life has been well-established, it was unknown how age at onset of hypertension may affect this association. If this is proven, it would provide some important evidence to suggest earlier intervention to delay the onset of hypertension, which may, in turn, be beneficial in preventing dementia.”

He suggests that an active screening program to identify those with early hypertension can lead to earlier, intensive high blood pressure treatment, which might reduce the risk of dementia in patients.

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