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High blood pressure may hike dementia risk

Staff Writer |
High blood pressure, particularly in middle age, might open the door to dementia, the American Heart Association warns in a new scientific statement.

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Dementia affects some 30 million to 40 million people worldwide. That number is expected to triple by 2050, as the world's population ages and treatments remain elusive, the association noted.

"People with high blood pressure tend to have more dementia," said statement author Dr. Costantino Iadecola. He is a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

Whether controlling high blood pressure ("hypertension") reduces the odds of developing dementia, however, has not been scientifically proven, he said.

"There are a lot of small observational studies that looked at people who were treated for blood pressure and, generally, there was an improvement in cognition [thinking skills]," Iadecola said.

"However, what we really need is a trial that specifically addresses the link between hypertension and cognition. What we need is a big trial to really narrow this down," he suggested.

High blood pressure is "the worst possible thing for the brain," Iadecola said. First, high blood pressure damages the blood vessels in the brain and leads to hardening of the arteries. Second, it affects tiny blood vessels and the brain's ability to control blood flow, which is essential to keep it working normally, he explained.

"Although scientifically we don't have evidence, treating blood pressure is going to be important. It not only saves the brain, but also the heart and the kidney. So in the absence of evidence, the best thing to do is to control blood pressure," Iadecola suggested.


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