Blood Pressure and Your Brain

Almost everyone knows someone with High Blood Pressure. In fact, in the United States, almost 78 million (or one out of every three) adults have high blood pressure. While most are aware that high blood pressure can cause a whole host of health problems from heart attack to stroke, fewer people consider what affect high blood pressure has on our brain. 

Blood pressure is vital for survival. It is the force that propels oxygen-rich blood to every part of our bodies and our heart is the pump that generates the force, while our arteries transport and distribute the blood. Blood pressure has two components: systolic and diastolic. Systolic blood pressure is the higher number, recorded while your heart is sending blood into your arteries. Diastolic blood pressure is the lower number, measured when your heart is relaxing and refilling with blood between heart beats. Normal blood pressure is indicated by readings below 120/ 80, while a reading of 140/90 or above indicates high blood pressure or hypertension.

Hypertension is responsible for roughly one in six deaths in the U.S. today and is classified as a cardiovascular disease. However since arteries are vital to the health of ALL our organs, hypertension is actually a multi-system disease. In many cases, according to an article in Harvard’s Health Publications, the most damage from hypertension is to the eyes, kidneys or brain.

Perhaps the most common danger to the brain from high blood pressure results in stroke. There are two types of strokes, ischemic and hemorrhagic, but ischemic account for about 87% of all strokes. Every year nearly 800,000 people suffer from a stroke but since 1950, American’s risk of dying due to a stroke has declined by 70%. While blood pressure remains the leading cause of strokes, the treatment of hypertension is extremely protective against stroke, and is easy to do, once identified. (For more information on the risks and prevention of strokes, please visit our previous stories on strokes by clicking here.)

Mental decline is perhaps more feared than stroke by many people, and sometimes thought of as part of aging. However, mental decline is not only NOT a guaranteed part of aging, but also easy to manage. In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear through ongoing research that hypertension takes a toll on the brain as we age, and accordingly, making sure that blood pressure is managed may very well stop cognitive impairment in its tracks, according to a study by Italian scientists. These scientists found that patients who were given medications to treat hypertension over a two-year period were 80% less likely to progress into Alzheimer’s disease… 80%!

The key to all of this is knowing the facts. Know your blood pressure, know the levels that it should be at, or under, and take steps to correct them if they become out of the normal range. There are many effective ways to control hypertension and to ensure a healthy blood pressure including diet and exercise, lifestyle modifications, weight control, stress control and the management of alcohol use to name a few. If you have questions about your blood pressure and the best ways to control it, speak to your doctor, and know that with knowledge, patience and practice, your blood pressure and your overall well-being is within your grasp.