High Blood Pressure in Younger Adults Linked With Dementia Risk, Smaller Brain Size

New research suggests that people with hypertension (high blood pressure) in their thirties and forties may have a higher risk of dementia later in life. Investigators also found that on average, people with high blood pressure had smaller brains compared with people with normal blood pressure.

“These results indicate that it’s very important to know your blood pressure level, even in young adults,” says Donna K. Arnett, PhD, MSPH, professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health in Lexington, and a past president of the American Heart Association (AHA) and a volunteer expert for the organization. Dr. Arnett was not involved in this research. “If you are found to be hypertensive, you should seek treatment early,” she adds.

Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Have High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is simply a measurement of the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. If blood pressure stays high for a long time, it can cause damage to organs, including your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of adults in the United States — 47 percent or 116 million people — have hypertension, which is defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 milimeters of mercury (mmHg) or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mmHg or are taking medication for hypertension.

Hypertension Is Linked With Dementia Risk
Existing research on hypertension and dementia, summarized in a review published in January 2020 in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, has confirmed that elevation of blood pressure in middle age is linked to cognitive decline, though further research is needed to clarify the relationship.

To evaluate how the age of onset of high blood pressure might affect brain changes and dementia risk, researchers analyzed data from participants in the UK Biobank, a large database containing detailed anonymous health information of approximately 500,000 people from the United Kingdom. Participants in the UK Biobank are between the ages 40 and 69 years old who agreed to provide blood, urine, and saliva samples, as well as a detailed history for the purposes of research.

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