We know that high blood pressure, when untreated, increases a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, aneurism, and kidney damage, and there is increasing evidence that untreated hypertension also slowly causes brain damage and increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (USA): “If you look for things that we can prevent that lead to cognitive decline in the elderly, hypertension is at the top of the list.” High blood pressure is very common. According to the Brazilian Ministério da Saúde, 35% of Brazilians over the age of 40 have hypertension.
New research studies are showing that a certain type of high blood pressure medication—called the ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers)—may help protect the brain better than other types of blood pressure medication. Some of the common ARB medications are olmesartan (Benicar or Olmetec), telmisartan (Micardis), and valsartan (Diovan).
Long-term high blood pressure damages blood vessels in the heart and throughout the body. When the vessels in the brain are subjected to the increased pressure, they are damaged and narrowed. Less blood flows to the white and grey matter of the brain, leading to loss of brain function. This can progress from “mild cognitive dysfunction” all the way to Alzheimer’s disease.
Protecting your brain is another good reason to make sure your blood pressure is under control! Remember that high blood pressure is considered a “silent disease”, as it usually has no symptoms at all. The only way it can be diagnosed is by checking your pressure regularly.
Some cases of high blood pressure can respond to lifestyle modification, such as losing weight, exercising, and decreasing salt in the diet. But many people require medication to control their pressure, and if you are now taking or are prescribed medication, it is worthwhile asking your doctor about possibly using a drug from the ARB class of anti-hypertensives. ARBs may help protect your brain better than other types of available mediations.
The most recent study demonstrating this efficacy was published in the September 2012 Archives of Neurology. Dr. Ihab Hajjar and his associates autopsied the brains of 890 elderly individuals who had the diagnosis of hypertension, and who were on various types of anti-hypertensive medications. They found that the ones who were taking ARB medication showed significantly less amyloid scarring (typical of Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain.
ARB treated patients had a 32 to 35% less chance of suffering dementia than patients treated with other types of anti-hypertensive medication. The scientists are not sure why the ARBs are effective in this way, but they are investigating drugs related to ARBs that could be developed as Alzheimer’s treatments.
So, check your blood pressure regularly, and if your pressure is high, it’s important to get it under control to help keep your brain functioning well. If medication is prescribed, you could ask your doctor if an ARB class drug would be indicated in your case.
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