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Keep blood pressure in check, higher numbers may cause brain disease

15 July 2018

Previous studies have implicated high blood pressure as a possible risk factor for dementia, including Alzheimer's dementia, but there are few studies exploring how blood pressure, particularly among older people, affects tissues in the brain. Almost half or 48 percent had at least one brain lesion.

Looking for signs of Alzheimer's disease in autopsied brains, the researchers also saw an association between higher systolic blood pressure in the years before death and higher amounts of tangles - knots of brain cells signifying the presence of the condition. Those causes are brain infarcts (also called brain lesions) and the signature biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease: the plaques and tangles, both made of different proteins, in the brain.

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Two-thirds of those taking part already had high blood pressure, which is common in the elderly, with most (87 percent) participants on medication for it. The higher number is called systolic blood pressure, the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats. Low blood pressure is purposely left undefined because no number is considered too low as long as there are no troubling symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and problems concentrating. Participation included yearly physical exams, some neuropsychological testing and records of their medical histories and medications.

The enrollees also consented to a brain autopsy when they died; just before age 89 was the average.

Diastolic blood pressure was also associated with increased risk, though it was lesser at 28-percent versus systolic's 46-percent.

Dr Doug Brown, Chief Policy and Research Officer at Alzheimer's Society, said high blood pressure in middle-aged is known to increase dementia risk in later life.

Volunteers who had higher than average systolic blood pressure were more likely to have brain lesions than the others. With higher blood pressure, the risk of brain lesions went up: people with an upper blood pressure of 147 (normal being 120) had a 46 percent higher chance of having one or more lesions.

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The individuals with higher blood pressure were also shown to feature more tau tangles, which is one of the signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Arvanitakis said this finding is hard to interpret and requires more research.

She added: "While our findings may eventually have important public health implications for blood pressure recommendations for older people, further studies will be needed to confirm and expand on our findings".

"We think that it's potentially biologically plausible that altered blood pressure later in life can cause infarcts [in the brain], given the body of literature in which we know that blood pressure is associated with stroke", says Arvanitakis.

Scientists from Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago wanted to examine the impact blood pressure changes in old age can have on the brain.

Although heart disease which is mainly affected due to human behaviors such as exercise, diet as well as smoking has been explained by science, several risk factors which make our brain vulnerable to the Alzheimer's disease have not been identified by it.

Late a year ago, the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association changed blood pressure recommendations, defining high blood pressure as 130/80 mm/Hg or higher.

Hypertension may trigger dementia risk in older adults, according to a recent research.

Keep blood pressure in check, higher numbers may cause brain disease