Hypertension: Negative effects on the brain
High blood pressure is not only one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but it can also damage the brain and impair walking and memory, as one 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 disease such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney failure. In addition, high blood pressure can have a negative effect on the brain.
Measure your blood pressure regularly
Even young patients should react to lifestyle changes as soon as the first signs of high blood pressure appear and – if these are unsuccessful – consider taking antihypertensive medication with their doctor. The German Society of Internal Medicine e.V. (DGIM) in a message published by idw – Informationsdienst Wissenschaft.
Because high blood pressure, as doctors call high blood pressure, damages the organs in many cases long before the affected people notice their illness. Damaged organs include the brain.
According to a US study published in the journal Circulation, the negative effects of high blood pressure values since adolescence appear in a reduced gait pattern and reduced cognitive performance such as forgetting.
In this context, experts from DGIM and the German high pressure association DHL e. V. (DHL) advises that even young adults should have their blood pressure checked regularly or at least checked at a doctor’s office or pharmacy.
Vascular damage also affects the brain
The vascular damage caused by hypertension affects not only the organs and vessels of the body but also the functions of the brain. To that end, U.S. scientists examined participants in a long-term epidemiological study. The so-called CARDIA study (Development of coronary artery risk in young adults) investigates the development of risk factors for coronary heart disease in young adults.
Between 1985 and 1986, more than 5,000 people between the ages of 18 and 30 were included in this study and followed for a period of 30 years. During the observation period, several clinical trials were performed in which, among other things, systolic and diastolic blood pressure values were determined.
Because high blood pressure is considered a risk factor for coronary heart disease. The researchers also tested cognitive abilities, such as memory or attention of 191 participants, and measured walking speed, walking length and gait variability. 144 experimental subjects also received MRI scans of their brains.
Take warning signs seriously
The research team found that patients whose blood pressure levels were elevated throughout the observation period – that is, from their youth – performed worse in terms of cognitive abilities. In addition, these people also showed lower walking speed, shorter gait, and greater gait variability in gait analysis.
The authors of the study attribute this to damage to certain vascular structures in the brain, the so-called reductions in white matter. These were particularly evident on MRI scans of patients with marked impairment of gait.
“This study shows that high blood pressure, which begins in early adulthood and goes untreated for years, causes significant damage to neural connections in the brain,” says Professor Dr. Sebastian M. Schellong, President of DGIM 2020/2021 from Dresden.
In this context, the vascular specialist points out that hypertension is the most common internal disease, especially in young athletes. That’s why it’s so important for young people to also take the warning signs of high blood pressure seriously, Schellong said. These warning signs include, for example, difficulty sleeping, headaches or dizziness.
“If the blood pressure rises significantly, it can manifest itself in symptoms such as shortness of breath during exercise, sudden pain in the upper body or a strong feeling of pulse,” explains the chief physician of the 2nd Medical Clinic at Dresden Hospital.
According to the expert, it is important for young people to take these symptoms seriously. “Although high blood pressure is a widespread disease in Germany, it is very often not detected or treated,” says Schellong.
Significant effects on aging
Hypertension often only shows clear effects in old age, especially from the age of 50, for example in the form of heart failure, coronary heart disease, stroke or even kidney failure.
In order to avoid such diseases as much as possible, patients 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 hypertension specialist from Wiesbaden. As an active member of the board of the German High Pressure League DHL®, the prevention 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 thyroid diseases, for example.
“Lifestyle changes are the first starting point for lowering 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 treatment is appropriate. (One D)
Author and source information
This text meets the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been reviewed by medical professionals.
- idw – Scientific Information Service: Contact from the German Society of Internal Medicine e. V .: Widespread disease high blood pressure damages the brain and impairs walking and memory, (accessed: 13.01.2021), idw – Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
- Mahinrad S et al .: Cumulative exposure to blood pressure during adulthood and mobility and cognitive function in middle life. in: Circulation, (accessed online: 21.11.2019 and: Circulation 2020; 141: 712–724), Circulation
This article is for general guidance only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-medication. It can not replace a visit to the doctor.