Concussions and high blood pressure are common in former football players

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If you’ve watched professional football, you’re probably aware of the concerns around concussions and their long-term impact on players’ brains.

However, new research from the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University is revealing another worrying issue: the more concussions a player has had, the more likely they are to have high blood pressure later in life.

This holds true even when considering other factors that usually cause high blood pressure, like age, weight, race, smoking, and diabetes.

Why High Blood Pressure Matters

High blood pressure isn’t just a heart issue; it can also lead to brain problems. It’s well-known that football players are at risk for conditions that affect their cognitive abilities, mostly due to repeated head injuries on the field.

But what hasn’t been as clear is how much cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death among former players and Americans in general, plays a role.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often the starting point for many heart-related issues, and it can also damage blood vessels in the brain, leading to cognitive decline.

Rachel Grashow, director of epidemiological research initiatives for the Football Players Health Study, says that while many have focused on how concussions directly lead to brain problems, it’s crucial to look at how they also contribute to cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure.

The condition can be managed, sometimes easily, with exercise, diet changes, and medication.

That’s why Grashow argues for doctors to screen for high blood pressure in anyone with a history of head injuries, even if they don’t have other typical risk factors.

Concussions and High Blood Pressure: What the Data Shows

The Harvard study is one of the most comprehensive of its kind, involving over 4,000 former NFL players.

Researchers considered the usual risk factors for high blood pressure, like obesity and smoking, but they also took into account factors unique to football players, like how long they played and what position they played.

They even developed a concussion symptom score to better understand the relationship between head injuries and high blood pressure.

What they found is eye-opening: the more concussion symptoms a player reported, the more likely they were to have high blood pressure.

This remained true even when accounting for other risks.

Aaron Baggish, a senior faculty member of the study and former director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cardiovascular Performance Program, says that understanding this link gives us an opportunity to protect players’ hearts and brains through treatment for high blood pressure.

Moving Forward: Treatment and Future Research

While it’s still unclear exactly why concussions lead to high blood pressure, one theory is that repeated head injuries might cause ongoing inflammation that raises blood pressure levels.

More research is needed to confirm this, but the current findings offer a compelling reason for athletes, their families, and healthcare providers to take head injuries seriously—not just for brain health, but for heart health too.

By identifying and treating those at risk for high blood pressure based on their concussion history, we have the chance to protect not only their cardiovascular health but also their long-term cognitive function.

This is a crucial step forward in ensuring better quality of life for athletes long after they’ve left the playing field.

If you care about blood pressure, please read studies about unhealthy habits that could increase high blood pressure risk, and people with severe high blood pressure should reduce coffee intake.

For more information about blood pressure, please see recent studies that early time-restricted eating could help improve blood pressure, and results showing plant-based foods could benefit people with high blood pressure.

The research findings can be found in Circulation.

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