"Based on our findings, we would encourage women to maintain their blood pressure at normal levels, which may reduce their risk of dementia," says study co-author Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller.
The small blood vessels in the brain are especially susceptible to damage from even moderately elevated blood pressure resulting in damage to the white matter served by those vessels. The brain's white matter is composed of whitish myelin-coated axons (nerve cell appendages) that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other and help the regions of the brain work together. Several studies have found that damage to white matter, as indicated by the presence of WMLs, seems to be an independent risk factor for dementia.
The current study reinforces earlier research showing that hypertension plays a role in causing dementia, suggesting that preventing hypertension from developing through weight loss, exercise or other lifestyle changes would be beneficial.
"However, we don't know whether hypertension treatment will prevent WMLs from developing, or how much blood pressure should be lowered so that these brain lesions won't occur," says Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller. "We do have suggestive evidence that the progression of WMLs can be slowed by anti-hypertensive therapy."
"Nonetheless," she adds, "it would be prudent for women to keep their blood pressure low, and the earlier in life they start doing so, the better. At present, keeping blood pressure at normal levels is probably the most effective way we know of to prevent dementia from occurring." According to baseline data on more than 98,705 women ages 50-79 who enrolled in the WHI study, 37.8% had hypertension, which is defined as systolic blood pressure ≥140 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure ≥90 mm Hg or being on medication for high blood pressure; 64.3% of the hypertensive women were treated with drugs, and blood pressure w
|Contact: Deirdre Branley|
Albert Einstein College of Medicine