Early heart disease and stroke linked to worse brain health in middle age

Credit: CDC.

In a study from the University of California, San Francisco, scientists found people with early heart disease and stroke may be more likely to have memory and thinking problems and worse brain health in middle age.

Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke have been associated with an increased risk for cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults, but less is known about how having these diseases before age 60 impacts cognition and brain health over the course of life.

In the study, the team looked at 3,146 people. Participants were 18 to 30 years old at the start of the study and were followed for up to 30 years. By the end of the study, they had an average age of 55.

Of the total participants, 147, or 5%, were diagnosed with early cardiovascular disease, which was defined as having coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, carotid artery disease or peripheral artery disease before age 60.

The average age for a first heart disease event was age 48.

The researchers found that people with early cardiovascular disease performed worse than those without on five out of five tests.

Of the total participants, 656 people had brain scans to look at white matter hyperintensities and white matter integrity. White matter hyperintensities typically indicate vascular injury to the brain’s white matter.

The researchers found that early heart disease was linked to more white matter hyperintensities in the brain as well as higher white matter mean diffusivity, which indicates a decrease in brain tissue integrity.

For participants who had two sets of cognitive tests 25 and 30 years into the study, researchers found the early cardiovascular disease was associated with a three times greater likelihood of accelerated cognitive decline over five years.

The research suggests that a person’s 20s and 30s are a crucial time to begin protecting brain health through heart disease prevention and intervention.

Preventing these diseases may delay the onset of cognitive decline and promote a healthier brain throughout life.

If you care about heart health, please read about studies about how COVID-19 damages the heart, and scientists find new way to heal heart muscle.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about keys to reducing dementia risk, and results showing Omega-3s could improve brain structure.

The study was conducted by Xiaqing Jiang et al and published in Neurology.

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