Middle-aged folks who had high blood pressure since they were young adults show brain changes that may increase their risk of future mental decline, a new study says.
Previous research has found that high blood pressure affects the structure and function of the brain's blood vessels, resulting in damage to regions of the brain that are critical for thinking and memory skills.
"There are studies to suggest changes to the brain may start at a young age," said study lead author Dr. Christina Lineback, a vascular neurology fellow at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Our study provides further evidence that high blood pressure during young adulthood may contribute to changes in the brain later in life."
For this study, her team analyzed 30 years of data collected from 142 participants in a long-term U.S. study on coronary artery disease risk. As part of that study, participants had MRI brain imaging at age 30 and again at about age 55.
Those who had high blood pressure from age 25 to 55 had more changes visible on their midlife MRI. The researchers said that may put them at higher risk for problems with thinking and memory problems.
Those high blood pressure-related brain changes were similar across all races and ethnic groups, according to findings scheduled for presentation Wednesday at a meeting of the American Stroke Association in New Orleans and online.
Lineback noted that this study doesn't prove that the brain changes were caused by high blood pressure, as only an association was observed. But even so, the findings "should encourage health care professionals to aggressively address high blood pressure in young adults, as a potential target to narrow disparities in brain health," she said in a meeting news release.
More than 47% of U.S. adults had high blood pressure between 2015 and 2019, according to the American Heart Association. The age-adjusted death rate primarily attributable to high blood pressure was 25.1 per 100,000 in 2019.