How blood pressure numbers predict your brain health

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When doctors take your blood pressure, they give you two numbers. The first number, systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.

The second number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure when your heart rests between beats. People often focus on the first number to gauge heart disease risk.

However, a study from the University of Miami suggests that the second number, the diastolic pressure, is also crucial, especially for brain health.

According to health guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AHA), a diastolic reading of 80 or higher is considered high.

This new research highlights that people with a diastolic pressure below 80 might have a lower risk of developing certain types of brain damage associated with memory problems, strokes, and physical falls.

The study involved over 1,200 men and women aged 50 and above. Researchers used MRI scans to look for white matter lesions in the participants’ brains.

White matter consists of nerve fibers that help in transmitting messages across different parts of the brain, aiding in everything from muscle movement to thinking.

Lesions in the white matter can block these messages, thereby increasing the risk of physical falls and impacting mental functions like memory and decision-making.

Interestingly, the study found that those with the lowest diastolic blood pressure readings had fewer white matter lesions compared to those with higher readings.

In the past, high systolic pressure has been linked to these brain scars, which are caused by narrowed arteries. But this study shows that lower diastolic pressure correlates with smaller lesions in critical brain regions observed on MRI scans.

The research team noted that the size and location of lesions vary because different brain regions are supplied by different blood vessels, and diseases might affect these regions differently.

Specifically, lesions near the periventricular area—a region around the brain’s ventricles—are particularly concerning. These lesions are more likely to be associated with cognitive problems such as trouble with thinking and memory.

White matter lesions are not uncommon. By the age of 60, between 10% and 20% of individuals have these lesions, a number that rises significantly in older populations.

Most adults over the age of 90 have some form of white matter lesions, as stated by an AHA scientific statement regarding silent cerebrovascular disease.

This study, led by Michelle R. Caunca and published in the journal Stroke, stresses the importance of monitoring blood pressure as part of routine health care.

It adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that both numbers in a blood pressure reading play significant roles in health—pointing specifically to the impact of diastolic blood pressure on brain health.

Understanding and managing blood pressure can be a critical step in preventing complications associated with these brain lesions, such as strokes and cognitive decline.

Therefore, it’s vital for individuals to know their blood pressure numbers and discuss them with their healthcare provider, ensuring they receive appropriate guidance and treatment to maintain both heart and brain health.

If you care about Alzheimer’s, please read studies about the likely cause of Alzheimer’s disease , and new non-drug treatment that could help prevent Alzheimer’s.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about diet that may help prevent Alzheimer’s, and results showing some dementia cases could be prevented by changing these 12 things.

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