Hypertension: Negative Effects on the Brain
High blood pressure is not only one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it can also damage the brain and impair walking and memory, as a study has now shown.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure). This can damage the arteries and significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney failure. In addition, high blood pressure can have negative effects on the brain.
Measure blood pressure regularly
Even young patients should react with lifestyle changes at the first signs of high blood pressure and – if these are unsuccessful – consider taking antihypertensive medication with their doctor. The German Society for Internal Medicine e. V. (DGIM) in a published by idw – Informationsdienst Wissenschaft Message down.
Because arterial hypertension, as doctors call high blood pressure, damages organs in many cases long before those affected notice their illness. The damaged organs include the brain.
According to one in the journal “Circulation“Published US study show the negative effects of increased blood pressure values since adolescence in an impaired gait pattern and reduced cognitive performance such as forgetfulness.
Against this background, experts from DGIM and the German High Pressure League DHL e. V. (DHL) advises that even young adults should regularly measure their blood pressure themselves or at least have it checked in a doctor’s office or pharmacy.
Vascular damage also affects the brain
Vascular damage caused by hypertension affects not only the organs and vessels of the body but also the functions of the brain. For this purpose, US scientists examined participants in a long-term epidemiological study. The so-called CARDIA study (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) investigates the development of risk factors for coronary heart disease in young adults.
Between 1985 and 1986, more than 5,000 subjects between 18 and 30 years of age were included in this study and followed up over a period of 30 years. During the observation period, clinical examinations were carried out several times in which, among other things, the systolic and diastolic blood pressure values were determined.
Because high blood pressure is considered a risk factor for coronary artery disease. The researchers also tested the cognitive abilities such as memory or attention of 191 participants and measured their walking speed, stride length and gait variability. 144 test persons also received an MRI scan of their brain.
Take warning signs seriously
The research team found that patients whose blood pressure values were elevated over the entire observation period – that is, since their youth – did worse in terms of cognitive abilities. In addition, these people also showed a slower walking speed, shorter stride length and greater gait variability in the gait analysis.
The authors of the study attribute this to damage to certain vascular structures in the brain, so-called white matter lessions. These were particularly evident in the MRI scans of patients with a noticeable impairment of walking.
“This study shows that high blood pressure, which begins in early adulthood and remains untreated for years, causes considerable damage to the nerve connections in the brain,” says Professor Dr. Sebastian M. Schellong, chairman of DGIM 2020/2021 from Dresden.
Against this background, the vascular specialist points out that arterial hypertension is the most common internal disease, especially in young sporty people. That is why it is particularly important that young people also take warning signs of high blood pressure seriously, said Schellong. These warning signs include, for example, difficulty sleeping, headaches, or dizziness.
“If the blood pressure is greatly increased, this can manifest itself in symptoms such as shortness of breath under physical exertion, sudden pain in the upper body or strong palpitations,” explains the chief physician of the 2nd Medical Clinic at the Dresden City Hospital.
According to the expert, it is important that young people in particular take these symptoms seriously. “Although high blood pressure is a widespread disease in Germany, it too often goes undetected or untreated,” says Schellong.
Significant effects in old age
Arterial hypertension often only shows clear effects at an advanced age, predominantly from the age of 50, for example in the form of heart failure, coronary heart disease, strokes or even kidney failure.
In order to avoid such diseases as much as possible, those affected should clarify the causes with a doctor at an early stage when the first warning signs of high blood pressure appear, advises Professor Dr. med. Oliver Vonend, nephrologist and hypertensiologist from Wiesbaden. As an active member of the board of the German Hypertension League DHL®, the avoidance of cardiovascular diseases associated with high blood pressure is very important to him.
First of all, it is important to clarify the causes with a doctor at an early stage and to rule out diseases of the thyroid gland, for example.
“Lifestyle changes are the first starting point to lower blood pressure. Stress, smoking and obesity should be reduced and attention should be paid to a healthy diet with a maximum of six grams of salt per day, ”explains Vonend. If these measures do not lead to the desired success, drug therapy is appropriate. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.
- idw – Science Information Service: Communication from the German Society for Internal Medicine e. V .: widespread disease high blood pressure damages the brain and impairs walking and memory, (accessed: 13.01.2021) idw – Science Information Service
- Mahinrad S et al.: Cumulative Blood Pressure Exposure During Young Adulthood and Mobility and Cognitive Function in Midlife; in: Circulation, (veröffentlicht online: 21.11.2019 und: Circulation 2020; 141: 712–724), Circulation
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.