It is known that hypertension or high blood pressure can cause heart-related diseases. However, what many people may not know is that hypertension affects not only your heart but also your brain.
Studies have proved that hypertension can impair the functioning of the brain, the most extreme consequence of which is vascular dementia.1 This article will help you understand how uncontrolled hypertension may cause vascular dementia and how it can affect your life.
What is vascular dementia?
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms ranging from difficulty in speaking to memory loss, and the condition may worsen over time.2 Vascular dementia is a common cause of dementia, in which high blood pressure plays a vital role.2,3 Vascular dementia is caused by a reduced blood supply to your brain, which results in brain cell damage or death.3
The early symptoms of this disease depend on the area of the brain that is affected.4 The commonly seen symptoms are:
- Difficulty in making decisions and solving problems
- Inability to pay attention
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty in communication5
- Problems in coordination
- Difficulty moving around
- Physical disability2
During the early stages of vascular dementia, the individual is prone to being unusually emotional and has mood swings. They are also prone to depression and anxiety as they are aware of the difficulties arising from their dementia. As the disease progresses, the above symptoms start worsening. People with vascular dementia tend to survive for about five years after the beginning of the symptoms.6
Research has proved that high blood pressure in your midlife can significantly increase the risk of vascular dementia.3
How does high blood pressure cause vascular dementia?
Blood pressure refers to the force exerted on the blood vessels, specifically arteries. Arteries carry blood pumped from the heart to the different organs of your body. The blood pressure reading comprises two numerical values. The first one is the systolic pressure, which represents the force exerted on your arteries when the heart pumps blood (beats). The second number is called the diastolic pressure, which is the pressure on the arteries when the heart relaxes between two consecutive beats. The blood pressure in a healthy individual is about 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure or hypertension is caused when the blood pressure shoots over 140/90 mmHg.
Increased stress on the blood vessels due to hypertension over a prolonged period causes hardening of the blood vessels, and they become narrower on the inside. This condition is called arteriosclerosis. The narrowing of the arteries in your brain may block or limit the entry of oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain cells, resulting in their damage or death. Blockage of arteries is the most common cause of stroke.
Sometimes, an artery bursts inside the brain, causing a stroke. Both types of strokes can lead to post-stroke or stroke-related vascular dementia. However, other than stroke, dementia can also be caused by the blood vessels inside the brain being blocked or developing small bleeds over time. The gradual accumulation of these changes over many years results in small vessel disease, a major factor responsible for vascular dementia.3
What is the treatment for vascular dementia?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure available for vascular dementia. However, you can delay the rate at which the disease progresses by controlling the underlying cause, high blood pressure.2,3
And the good news is, vascular dementia can be prevented.7
How to make sure that I don’t suffer from vascular dementia?
High blood pressure is known as a silent killer, as most people do not realise they have high blood pressure until a severe heart disease (like a heart attack) occurs.3,8 Regularly checking your blood pressure is a good way to be on top of your health. If you do not have high blood pressure currently, you should check your blood pressure once every five years.3
We have listed down a few tips that will help you to bring your blood pressure under control.
- Exercise regularly
- Limit the intake of salt
- Reduce the consumption of alcohol and caffeine
- Quit smoking
- Take your medicines for hypertension daily3
High blood pressure is a dangerous condition. An understanding of the disease and the complications it can cause in the later stage of your life may make you more self-aware and responsible about your health. We hope that this article has given you a glimpse of the extent to which uncontrolled hypertension can affect your life.
Your health is in your hands; outsmart high blood pressure and live a healthy life.
- Iadecola C. Hypertension and dementia. Hypertension. 2014 Apr 28;64:3-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.03040.
- Blood Pressure UK. Vascular dementia and high blood pressure [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 21]. Available from: http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/BloodPressureandyou/Yourbody/Dementia
- Alzheimer’s society. High blood pressure and dementia [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 21]. Available from: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/high-blood-pressure.
- British Heart Foundation. Vascular dementia [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 21]. Available from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/vascular-dementia.
- America Stroke Association. Vascular dementia [Internet]. [updated 2018 Nov 21; cited 2019 Nov 21]. Available from: https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke/cognitive-and-communication-effects-of-stroke/vascular-dementia.
- Alzheimer’s society. The progression of vascular dementia [Internet]. [cited 2019 Nov 22]. Available from: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how-dementia-progresses/progression-vascular-dementia.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brain health is connected to heart health [Internet]. [updated 2018 Mar 26; cited 2019 Nov 21]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/heart-brain-health/index.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure [Internet]. [updated 2019 Nov 18; cited 2019 Nov 21]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/index.htm.