High Blood Pressure Increases Risk of Alzheimer’s, New Study

High blood pressure probably raises your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but, if you control your natural predisposition to hypertension, you could also delay your chance of developing AD. The University of Texas at Dallas released a study on Monday which confirmed the link.

While lead author Dr. Karen Rodrigue said that further work will still be needed, the new findings emphasize the importance of controlling high blood pressure — which is already known to be critical to prevent strokes and heart attacks.

The past science led the way. In 2007, University of Pittsburgh researchers showed that high blood pressure actually descreases the flow of blood to an area of the brain that controls memory and learning.

By 2010, the link was so strong that National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Walter Koroshetz was telling the Associated Press flat out, “If you look…for things that we can prevent that lead to cognitive decline in the elderly, hypertension is at the top of the list.”

Dr. Rodrigue’s new findings were recently published in the JAMA Neurology. The test subjects included 147 people age 30 to 89 who underwent a comprehensive series of tests of their brain function including both MRI and PET scans to look for clumps of cells called amyloid plaques. The build-up of these plaques in the brain is usually considered the first evidence that the patient will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease.

For years, the plaques could only be seen in an autopsy, preventing doctors from confirming a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease until after the victim’s death. However, new techniques now allow doctors to see the deadly clumps in living patients. That ability was crucial to permitting the researchers to demonstrate a clear link between high blood pressure and AD.

They discovered that even high-risk subjects known to have a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s didn’t have any more of the clumping in their brains than other subjects — if they were also taking high blood pressure medication to control their hypertension.

Other research teams are actively seeking new drugs to fight Alzheimer’s disease. The FDA has also come forward to fast-track the drug development process.

However, Dr. Rodrigue’s research suggested that you don’t necessarily have to wait for new discoveries to prevent AD. There’s something simple you can do to today.

It’s as basic as talking to your doctor to make sure that your high blood pressure is under control.

[PET scans courtesy Klunkwe and the University of Pittsburgh]