Intensive blood pressure treatment could help to protect brain health

New study shows that lowering blood pressure to below 120mmHg could lower the risk of cognitive impairment



Scientists based in the US have published new research showing that lowering high blood pressure to 120mmHg systolic, rather than 140mmHg, could help to protect brain health in later life.   

The team aimed to find out if intensive blood pressure treatment could help to prevent dementia. While no clear effect was seen for dementia, they did find a lower rate of cognitive impairment. The findings could have important implications for future research and treatments to preserve brain health.    

What did the study involve?

The study is known as SPRINT MIND, and is the latest installment of a well-known study published in 2016 called SPRINT (Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial). Over 9,000 adults over 50 with high blood pressure had their systolic blood pressure (the top number) lowered to either 120mmHg or 140mmHg – the usual cut off point for diagnosing high blood pressure and a common target for GPs to lower their patient’s blood pressure to.

The SPRINT Trial was stopped early because of it’s obvious effects on lowering the rates of heart attacks, strokes and dying from a blood pressure related illness. SPRINT MIND, published this January in JAMA, was focused specifically on brain health, and include results collected on brain health up until last year.

What were the main findings?

Fewer people had cognitive impairment in the group who had their blood pressure lowered to 120mmHg compared to the 140mmHg group.  Interestingly, fewer people also developed probable dementia, but the numbers were too small to know if this was a genuine effect of the blood pressure lowering. Further research will be needed to find out more.

Why is the study important?

At the moment, there is no treatment for lowering the risk of dementia and impaired cognitive function in later life, but there is research suggesting that blood pressure plays a role in brain health. The results add to the evidence that higher blood pressure could be harmful for brain health while lower blood pressure helps to preserve it. The new results are grounds for further research.

Importantly, this study shows that no harm is caused by lowering blood pressure. There have been fears that low blood pressure could actually lead to a decline in brain health because of a lack of blood flow, but this study shows that’s not the case.

Maria Carrillo, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association in the US explained, “Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a known risk factor for dementia, and everyone who experiences dementia passes through MCI. When you prevent new cases of MCI, you are preventing new cases of dementia.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Blood Pressure UK says: “The SPRINT MIND study has important implications for future research and treatments. It builds on our growing knowledge of how high blood pressure can affect brain health, and keeping blood pressure down is a logical and sensible step to preserving brain health in later life.” 

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You can read the study for free in JAMA.