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High Blood Pressure Could Contribute To Alzheimer's Disease: Study

Jul 13, 2018 10:03 PM EDT
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Keep an eye out on your blood pressure because scientists just discovered that higher blood pressure in the elderly increases the risks of Alzheimer's disease.

While previous studies have explored the connection between high blood pressure and dementia, this team took an entirely new approach by studying the dead.

"We know that blood pressure, especially if high, is related to stroke and also to dementia," lead author Dr. Zoe Arvanitakis, a professor of neurology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, tells CNN. "In this study, we wanted to examine the relationship of blood pressure across a range of values — not just high but also normal and low — to the two most common causes of stroke and dementia."

Blood Pressure Linked To Alzheimer's

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers reveal that those with a higher average blood pressure also tend to be more likely to suffer from brain lesions that contribute significantly to the risks of Alzheimer's disease.

The team took the blood pressures of 1,300 elderly individuals ages 59 to 102. Then the participants were tracked until their death, which, on average, was eight years after they began participating in the study.

Upon analysis of the brains during autopsies, the researchers discovered that those who have higher blood pressures are more likely to have brain lesions called infarcts. Infarcts are the parts of dead brain tissue that have no more blood supply, and they're known to occasionally lead to strokes.

Specifically, an increase in systolic pressure from 134 to 147 was found to lead to a 46 percent greater chance of getting one or more brain infarcts. The 147 systolic pressure also translates to a 46 percent higher chance in getting large lesions and a 36 percent greater chance in small lesions.

Higher diastolic blood pressure was also found to have a significant effect on brain lesions with a 28 percent greater chance of one or more lesions.

The individuals with higher blood pressure were also shown to feature more tau tangles, which is one of the signs of Alzheimer's disease. However, there were no links found between blood pressure and amyloid plaques, which is another signature of the disease.

More Research In The Future

Even with these findings, Arvanitakis acknowledges that further studies are necessary to explore the links between blood pressure and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Joe Verghese of the Resnick Gerontology Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine was not involved in the study, but he praises the different approach Arvanitakis and his team took in analyzing the effects of blood pressure on the brain.

"The study further supports treatment of blood pressure in late life to prevent cerebrovascular disease," Verghese says in CNN. "The story regarding Alzheimer risk is less clear."

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