Rapid blood pressure drops in middle age linked to dementia

A study from Johns Hopkins University suggests temporary drops in blood pressure in middle-aged adults may be linked to development of dementia in later years.

A rapid drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness upon standing in adults. These temporary episodes are known as orthostatic hypotension and may lead to damage due to blood flow restriction to the brain.

“Even though these episodes are fleeting, they may have impacts that are long lasting,” Andrea Rawlings, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a press release. “We found that those people who suffered from orthostatic hypotension in middle age were 40 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who did not. It’s a significant finding and we need to better understand just what is happening.”

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Researchers analyzed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities, or ARIC, cohort of 15,792 people between the ages of 45 and 64 in four communities in the United States. They focused on the 11,503 participants who had no history of heart disease or stroke at the beginning of the study in 1987.

Those participants were asked to lay down for 20 minutes and then had their blood pressure taken upon standing. For the study, orthostatic hypotension was defined as a drop of 20 mmHg or more in systolic blood pressure or 10 mmHg or more in diastolic blood pressure.

Researchers found 6 percent, or 703 participants, fell into that category, and were then followed for another 20 years or longer. Results showed participants with orthostatic hypotension at baseline were 40 percent more likely to develop dementia than those without. They also showed a 15 percent increased cognitive decline for these participants.

“Identifying risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia is important for understanding disease progression, and being able to identify those most at risk gives us possible strategies for prevention and intervention,” Rawlings said. “This is one of those factors worth more investigation.”

The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s EPI LIFESTYLE 2017 Scientific Sessions in Portland, Ore.

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