High Blood Pressure Can Shrink the Brain

By Seppa, N. | Science News, July 12, 1997 | Go to article overview

High Blood Pressure Can Shrink the Brain


Seppa, N., Science News


Elderly people with chronic high blood pressure lose tissue from parts of the brain involved in memory and language skills, according to a study from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Bethesda, Md.

Meanwhile, other research finds a strong correlation between the number of years a person has high blood pressure and the amount of brain matter lost.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain tissue and a battery of tests to assess mental skills, NIA researchers compared 19 men and 8 women who had had high blood pressure for nearly 2 decades with 20 healthy counterparts. All volunteers were nonsmokers; none had suffered a stroke. Most of the people with high blood pressure were taking medication before the tests.

Previous research had shown that overall brain tissue loss can stem from high blood pressure (SN: 9/12/92, p. 166) as well as the normal aging process. The new study, in the July STROKE, shows greater tissue loss in the temporal and occipital lobes of people with high blood pressure than in healthy people. These brain areas play key roles in language and memory. The tissue loss occurred even when blood pressure was controlled by medication. Other areas showed less difference between the groups.

Results from tests of mental acuity matched the MRI findings. …

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