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High blood pressure ‘linked to increased brain damage’

High blood pressure has been associated with an increase in brain damage later in life, a new study has suggested.

Researchers at the University of Oxford discovered that higher than normal blood pressure is directly linked to extensive brain damage in the elderly, which could lead to stroke, dementia, physical disabilities and depression.

More than 37,000 participants were followed in the extensive study, aged between 40 and 69 years, and their MRI scans and medical information from 2014 to 2019 were analysed.

Scientists found that there was an overwhelming link between diastolic blood pressure – blood pressure between heart beats – before the age of 50 and brain damage in later life.

Study leader Dr Karolina Wartolowska found that damage in the brain, called white matter hyperintensities (WMH), showed up in the MRI scans as brighter regions, and indicated damage to small blood vessels in the brain that increases with age and blood pressure.

“Not all people develop these changes as they age, but they are present in more than 50 per cent of patients over the age of 65 and most people over the age of 80 even without high blood pressure, but it is more likely to develop with higher blood pressure and more likely to become severe,” she explained.

Wartolowska also revealed that even slightly elevated blood pressure has a damaging effect on brain tissue, and wants healthcare experts to implement better treatment early on for those suffering from high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

She added more “The long time interval between the effects of blood pressure in midlife and the harms in late life emphasises how important it is to control blood pressure long-term, and that research has to adapt to consider the very long-term effects of often asymptomatic problems in midlife”.

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