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High Blood Pressure and the Cognitive Risk that Comes With It

High Blood Pressure and the Cognitive Risk that Comes With It

Do you have high blood pressure? Are you at risk of developing high blood pressure? Did you know having high blood pressure makes you more at risk for mild cognitive impairment? 

Mild cognitive impairment is a stage of dementia (MCI). A recent study showed people who have a history of high blood pressure may be at higher risk of mild cognitive impairment. We will take a look at the study and give you the information to help you stay healthy and protect yourself.  

First, we will look at what exactly is high blood pressure and the common symptoms. Then we will give you the important parts of the study and how you can prevent high blood pressure.  

What is High Blood Pressure?

Blood is carried through a network of vessels. The blood is pushed through this network by the heart. When blood is pumped out of the heart and into the circulatory system, it creates the systolic blood pressure (the top number). When the heart rests between the beats then the diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is made. 

Your blood pressure is the relationship between systolic and diastolic numbers. According to the American Heart Association, 120/80 is a normal blood pressure. The following are different levels of blood pressure categories:

  • Elevated blood pressure is systolic of 120-129 and a diastolic of less than 80.
  • High blood pressure (Stage 1) is 130 -139 or a diastolic of 80 - 89
  • High Blood Pressure (Stage 2) is 140 or higher and a diastolic of 90 or higher.
  • Hypertensive Crisis is higher than 180 and/or a diastolic of higher than 120

If you are in Stage 1, chances are your doctor may talk to you about lifestyle changes. This could include eating more vegetables and cutting down on sodium. The doctor may add medication to your regimen if you have a higher risk of a stroke or heart attack.

If you are in Stage 2, your doctor is likely to prescribe medication and tell you to make changes in your lifestyle. Common lifestyle changes include eating healthier, getting more exercise, better sleep, and reducing stress.

If you take your blood pressure and the numbers show you are in a Hypertensive Crisis, wait a few minutes and test your blood pressure again. If your numbers are still high then call your doctor immediately. A Hypertensive Crisis is a serious medical emergency and you may need to call 911.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

The easiest way to watch for symptoms of high blood pressure is to check your numbers weekly with a digital blood pressure monitor. It only takes a couple of minutes and is easy to use. However, if you don’t have a monitor, there are common symptoms of high blood pressure you should watch for.

If your blood pressure is really high, you might experience:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vision problems
  • Nosebleeds
  • Severe headaches
  • Fatigue 
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pounding in your ears, neck, or chest
  • Chest pain

The following are symptoms that may be related to high blood pressure, but they also could indicate another medical condition. If you experience any of the following, talk to your doctor to help rule out other causes.

  • Blood spots in the eyes
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness
  • Facial Flushing

Not all of the symptoms on the lists will be present. Sometimes people experience certain symptoms and not others. If you are at risk, it is important to check your blood pressure regularly with a portable blood pressure monitor. 

If you see high numbers on your monitor, write them down and bring them to your next doctor’s appointment. That way, you have a record of how your blood pressure is trending so your doctor can decide on a better treatment plan.

High Blood Pressure and Cognitive Impairment

The American Heart Association recently did a study on how high blood pressure affects the mind. They also suggested treating high blood pressure early can help prevent cognitive decline as you age.

brain for cognitive impairment

High blood pressure contributes to the hardening of the arteries in the heart. These arteries bring oxygen to the brain. If it is hard for blood to get through the clogged artery then not enough oxygen gets to the brain. This is a big reason for cognitive decline for people ages 40 to 60. 

The research showed for every 10-unit increase in systolic blood pressure, there is a nine percent decline in cognitive function. Furthermore, people who didn’t treat their high blood pressure were at greater risk for cognitive decline.

Doctors said a reason for the cognitive decline could be due to microbleeds in the brain (small brain hemorrhages). In a recent study, researchers looked at microbleeds in the brain. Of the 345 patients from the study, just over nine percent of patients developed mild cognitive impairment. 

How to Treat High Blood Pressure

First, talk to your doctor about your high blood pressure. If your doctor recommends lifestyle changes there are a few things you can do. The first is to eat a healthy diet. This includes vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. 

digital blood pressure monitor

Next, start exercising regularly. Walking just 30 minutes a day can lower your blood pressure by about five to eight points. 

Third, lose a few extra pounds. Typically, blood pressure increases as weight increases. Weight loss has been shown to be one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling high blood pressure. Even if you lose just a couple of pounds, your blood pressure numbers will go down.

Lastly, monitor your blood pressure. Take your blood pressure every couple of days with a digital blood pressure monitor. Keep a record of your recent numbers so you can show your doctor at your next appointment. If your doctor makes any changes to your medication, they will have better data to work with if the doctor has a month or two of blood pressure data.