Skip to content

    Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Health Center

    Font Size

    Elevated BP May Prematurely Age the Brain

    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Nov. 1, 2012 -- Having even mildly elevated blood pressure at midlife prematurely ages the brain, a new study shows.

    Researchers say the early changes seen with higher blood pressure may set the stage for problems with thinking, memory, and dementia down the road.

    “This is an important finding,” says Paul Rosenberg, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

    “There’s a suggestion here that we should be treating blood pressure more aggressively in younger people,” says Rosenberg, who was not involved in the research.

    High Blood Pressure and Brain Changes

    The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to take a snapshot of the brains of 579 healthy adults who were participating in the third generation of the long-running Framingham Heart Study. People in the study ranged in age from 19 to 63, but on average they were around 39.

    Doctors measured each person’s blood pressure twice and took the average of the numbers.

    Those who had elevated blood pressures showed more signs of early changes on detailed brain scans than those with normal blood pressure. Normal is a systolic pressure (the top number) under 120 and a diastolic pressure (the bottom number) under 80.

    People who had prehypertension, meaning that their systolic pressure was between 120 and 139 or their diastolic blood pressure was between 80 and 89, had brains that looked about 3.3 years older than normal.

    Those with high blood pressure, meaning they had a systolic number over 140 or diastolic number over 90, had brains that looked about 7.2 years older.

    About 50 million Americans have elevated blood pressure. It’s estimated that less than 60% of people who know they have hypertension are treated for it. Only about a third of those people ever get it under control.

    Subtle Changes May Progress Over Time

    “These changes are subtle,” says researcher Charles S. DeCarli, MD, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of California, Davis.

    DeCarli says people who have them probably wouldn’t notice any problems with thinking or memory because of them, though those things were not measured for the study.

    Today on WebMD

    blood pressure
    Symptoms, causes, and more.
    Learn the causes.
    Compressed heart
    5 habits to change.
    Mature man floating in pool, goggles on head
    Exercises that help.
    heart healthy living
    Erectile Dysfunction Slideshow
    Bernstein Hypertension Affects Cardiac Risk
    Compressed heart
    Heart Disease Overview Slideshow
    thumbnail for lowering choloesterol slideshow
    Heart Foods Slideshow
    Low Blood Pressure

    WebMD Special Sections