Saturday, February 18, 2006

Uncontrolled high blood pressure and your brain

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can increase your risk of short-term memory problems and decreased verbal ability as you age.

A study on a group of otherwise healthy, older males found that men with hypertension (high blood pressure) who are unable to control it with medication performed poorly on short-term recall and verbal tests in comparison to other men.

Having high blood pressure that was adequately controlled by medication did not appear to affect the men's cognitive abilities. Nor did having untreated high blood pressure - a surprising finding. The researchers speculate this could be because the men in this group may only be at the early stages of hypertension, and able to control their blood pressure through lifestyle changes rather than medication.

The researchers also note that the fact that there was no difference in performance between men with blood pressure that was successfully controlled by medication and men with normal blood pressure suggests that blood pressure medications do not negatively affect men's cognitive abilities.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found a significant interaction between age and hypertension, with older men who had uncontrolled high blood pressure performing significantly worse on tests measuring verbal fluency (the ability to generate words in a specific category) and short-term memory (the ability to immediately recall words on a list).

"Do age effects on cognition vary as a function of hypertensive status?" wrote the authors. "The answer is, yes."

Therefore, if you are having memory troubles, you may not be able to blame your antihypertensive medication side effects. It could be aging, but it could also be uncontrolled hypertension.

(According to a national survey, 70 percent of Americans are aware of their high blood pressure, 59 percent are being treated for it, and 34 percent of those with hypertension have it under control.)

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