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Another reason to control blood pressure

August 25, 2009 |  9:38 am

Bloodpressure Chronic high blood pressure puts people at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Now a study shows that it may also cause memory problems, even among middle-aged people.

The research, published in the current issue of Neurology, showed that people with high diastolic blood pressure (that's the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) were more likely to have problems with memory and thinking skills compared to people with normal diastolic readings. For every 10-point increase in the reading, the odds of a person having cognitive problems was 7% higher. The study controlled for other factors that could affect cognition, such as age, smoking, exercise level, education or other illnesses. High blood pressure is defined as a reading equal to or higher than 140/90. The study involved almost 20,000 people, age 45 and older, from across the country who participated in a stroke study but had never had a stroke or mini stroke.

Researchers suggest a higher diastolic reading signals that the smaller arteries in the brain are weakening, which can result in subtle brain damage.

"It's possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia," the lead author of the study, Dr. Georgios Tsivgoulis, of the University of Alabama, said in a news release.

The National Institutes of Health is currently organizing a large study to learn whether aggressive control of blood pressure can lower the risk of various conditions, including cognitive decline.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times