Your heart and brain health are connected

How high blood pressure causes brain lesions later in life

Your heart and brain health are connected. Two studies regarding memory loss in seniors indicate that instead of being a sign of simply aging, short-term memory loss could be a symptom of the effects of hypertension or high blood pressure.

Controlling your blood pressure younger in life will have an impact on your memory later in life. Researchers from University College London in the U.K. studied high blood pressure in men from 36 to 43 years old led to smaller brain volume at 69 to 71. What they recently reported was that high and rising blood pressure in middle age was associated with brain function later in life. The American Heart Association defines high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) when your blood pressure, the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels, is consistently too high. It’s been a known risk factor for heart disease, heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. The new study exploring uncontrolled HBP as a risk factor for dementia connected brain and heart health.

“This has been a real game-changer for us in the past few months,” says Dr. Robert Benton, Director of Clinical Research at Capital Cardiology Associates. With around 15–20% of our blood going to the brain, physicians have long understood the importance of blood flow and reducing blockages or flow to the body’s most essential organ. In the UK study, doctors found white matter brain lesions, a sign of blood vessel damage in the brain, an indicator of aging, and a risk factor for cognitive decline. Dr. Benton acknowledged that showing adults the damage uncontrolled blood pressure is doing to their brain would be an effective awareness tool. “I wish we had a brain CT score as we do for heart patients,” he said. Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring is a scan that uses an x-ray focused on the functions of your heart. The images show cardiologists the amount of plaque in the arteries of the heart that has calcified or hardened. This can blockage or narrowing of the arteries is an indicator of atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease (CAD). People with a higher content of calcium (score) of calcium have an increased risk of heart attack or cardiac events. “In just a few seconds, we could get a better picture of spots on the brain associated with HBP. That’s one of the things on my wish lists for tests! I think this would really get the message across. ‘This tiny bit of scar on your brain could let to forgetting where your keys are, or worse,” added Dr. Benton.

In the SPRINT MIND trial published in January, investigators from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, looked into whether aggressively lowering blood pressure could protect the heart, kidney, and brain over five years. Aggressively lowering blood pressure in hypertensive older adults did not significantly reduce dementia risk, SPRINT MIND investigators reported. “The real question becomes when you frequently decrease blood pressure through medication, sometimes in older people, dizziness or disorientation can be a negative side effect,” Dr. Benton commented. This is a challenge that physicians face when prescribing treatment. “You have a symptom and sign that is very clear and distressing. What do people complain about when they get older? Forgetfulness. Now there is evidence linking that lack of controlled blood pressure with objective evidence of damage to the brain. This has led me to be more aggressive in the last several months in presenting this issue with patients: you could lose memory due to uncontrolled high blood pressure. Your health today affects how you will live in the future. No one wants to lose their independence over hypertension and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Benton.

Written by Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates
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