If you’re in your late thirties or early forties, you probably think high blood pressure doesn’t affect you as severely. But new research suggests that uncontrolled hypertension damages the brain’s structure and function as early as young middle-age. What’s even more alarming is that even those who, from a clinical standpoint, would not be classified as hypertensive, show evidence of silent structural brain damage
The study, led by researchers at UC Davis, is the first to demonstrate that there is structural damage to the brains of adults in young middle age as a result of high blood pressure. Earlier, such damage caused by high blood pressure was only associated with cognitive decline in older individuals.
Published online today in the medical journal The Lancet Neurology, the study will appear in print in the December 2012 issue. It emphasises the need for lifelong attention to vascular risk factors for brain aging, said study senior author Charles DeCarli, professor of neurology and director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
“The message here is really clear: People can influence their late-life brain health by knowing and treating their blood pressure at a young age, when you wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about it,” DeCarli said. “The people in our study were cognitively normal, so a lack of symptoms doesn’t mean anything.”
A systolic blood pressure [the top number] below 120 and a diastolic pressure [the bottom number] below 80 is considered normal. Pre-hypertensive blood pressure range is a top number between 120 and 139 and a bottom number between 80 and 89. Blood pressures above 140/90 are considered high.
Elevated blood pressure is associated with a 62 per cent risk of cerebrovascular disease, such as ischemic stroke, and a 49 percent risk of cardiovascular disease. It is the single-greatest risk factor for mortality in the United States.