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High blood pressure linked to mental decline

Uncontrolled high blood pressure may be a risk factor for intellectual decline in older individuals, researchers report.

"People with high blood pressure should be encouraged to get it under control in order to avoid this harmful effect," said study lead author Dr. Christophe Tzourio of the Hopital de la Salpètrière in Paris, France.

Experts have long suspected that arterial disease and unrecognized 'mini-strokes' linked to high blood pressure could be a cause of age-related mental decline.

In their study, Tzourio's team compared 4-year patterns of mental function and blood pressure in over 1,300 individuals ranging between 59 and 71 years of age.

They report that "in individuals with high blood pressure, cognitive (intellectual) decline occurred in a relatively short time period," compared with patients with normal, healthy blood pressures.

Risks for mental decline were highest among hypertensive patients who failed to control their blood pressure with available medications. According to the researchers, these patients were at 6 times the risk for a significant loss of mental ability over 2 years than patients with healthy blood pressures. Overall, about 22% of patients with uncontrolled hypertension experienced significant declines in mental function over the course of the 4-year study.

"This is a major issue," Tzourio said in a statement from the American Academy of Neurology. "If high blood pressure and other vascular factors play a role in dementia, then it might be possible to prevent or delay the occurrence of this dreadful disease by controlling high blood pressure."

However, Tzourio pointed out that direct links between blood pressure and mental function remain controversial.

"We have only indirect arguments for this relationship at this time," he said, cautioning that "more studies are needed" to confirm cause-and-effect.

In the meantime, however, he suggests that patients work to bring their hypertension under control. Healthy diets, exercise, and antihypertensive drug therapies can all help bring blood pressure numbers down and reduce risks for heart attack and stroke.

- More articles in High Blood Pressure

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