Individuals with high blood pressure may experience more extensive brain damage later in life, according to a new analysis published in the European Heart Journal.
The authors explored information from more than 37,000 patients enrolled in the massive UK Biobank database from March 2006 to October 2010. All participants were between the ages of 40 and 69 years old.
White matter hyperintensities (WMH), visible in MRI examinations, indicate small blood vessels in the brain have suffered significant damage. WMH are fairly normal in patients from the ages of 65 to 80 years old—but the study’s authors found that elevated diastolic blood pressure in a person’s 40s and 50s makes it more likely they will have a higher load of WMH as they age.
“Many people may think of hypertension and stroke as diseases of older people, but our results suggest that if we would like to keep a healthy brain well into our 60s and 70s, we may have to make sure our blood pressure, including the diastolic blood pressure, stays within a healthy range when we are in our 40s and 50s,” lead author Karolina Wartolowska, MD, a clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford, said in a prepared statement.
“The long time interval between the effects of blood pressure in midlife and the harms in late life emphasizes how important it is to control blood pressure long-term, and that research has to adapt to consider the very long-term effects of often asymptomatic problems in midlife,” Wartolowska added.