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  • Posted April 26, 2023

Tight Control of High Blood Pressure Brings Big Brain Benefits

Maintaining tight control of your blood pressure could help your brain, potentially reducing your risk of stroke, a new study says.

When blood pressure was intensively managed in adults over age 50, patients had fewer lesions in the brain's white matter, according to researchers.

Having this consistently controlled blood pressure significantly reduced the risk of stroke, they found.

“Our study demonstrates that lowering systolic blood pressure to below 120 mm Hg is more effective in preserving brain health compared to standard treatment goals,” study co-author Mohamad Habes said in a news release from University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He is an assistant professor of radiology there and director of the neuroimaging core at the university's Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

The study was a follow-up analysis of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), which compared maintaining systolic blood pressure at less than 120 mm Hg (what the researchers called "intensive" control) to control at less than 140 mm Hg (which they called "standard"). There were 458 participants 50 or older with high blood pressure and without diabetes or a history of stroke.

Researchers found that those receiving blood pressure treatment at the lower number showed reduced white matter lesions in frontal and posterior deep white matter. These lesions can be associated with Alzheimer's disease, non-Alzheimer's disease cognitive impairment and advanced brain aging, Habes said.

The patients with stricter blood pressure management also had improved blood flow, indicating better overall brain health, Habes said.

Intensive blood pressure treatment can slow down vascular brain injury, according to the study.

This may contribute to preserving mental function in older adults, said Tanweer Rashid, of the Biggs Institute.

“Our study shows that specific areas have greater benefit, representing sensitive regions to track in future trials evaluating small-vessel disease,” Rashid said in the release.

More research is needed to determine optimal blood pressure targets and treatment strategies for various population groups, as well as to assess potential side effects of intensive blood pressure treatment, Habes said. While the researchers used 140 mm Hg as the cutoff, current guidelines recommend keeping blood pressure below 130 mm Hg.

Study results were published recently in JAMA Network Open.

More information

The American Heart Association has more on blood pressure and brain health.

SOURCE: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, news release, April 24, 2023

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