A Reminder to Keep Taking Your Blood Pressure Medications

June 19, 2020

Many people have been putting off doctor visits or prescription refills because of fears about visiting the doctor’s office or pharmacy. But in this time of social distancing and fears surrounding coronavirus, it’s as important as ever to keep your blood pressure in check by taking prescribed blood pressure drugs. In one of the largest analyses to date, researchers report that among older men and women with high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy blood pressure with antihypertensive medication can help reduce your risk of dementia and cognitive impairment.

For the study, in JAMA, the medical journal of the American Medical Association, researchers combined data from 12 rigorous trials that looked at the effects of lowering blood pressure with antihypertensive drugs on brain health. The trials involved 92,135 older men and women, most in their late 60s or 70s. Their mean baseline blood pressure at the start of the study was 154/83.3; a healthy blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 or below.

Over an average follow-up period of more than four years, the researchers found among those who kept their blood pressure in a healthy range with antihypertensive medications, 7 percent went on to develop dementia or other problems with memory. That compared to 7.5 of those who did not maintain healthy blood pressure readings, a statistically significant difference.

Over longer periods, dementia rates would likely be even higher among those with unchecked high blood pressure, compared to those who kept their blood pressure in check. The researchers concluded that lowering blood pressure was associated with a lower risk of dementia.

Earlier studies have shown that hypertension, especially in midlife, is associated with dementia and cognitive impairment later in life. But studies on whether taking blood pressure medications help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s have been mixed. One large study from last year found that blood pressure drugs can help. This study involved an even larger number of older men and women, and concluded that maintaining a healthy blood pressure through medications has benefits for brain health.

High blood pressure might be easy to overlook because it often produces no symptoms. But uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and other life-threatening complications. In others instances high blood pressure has been linked with severe brain dysfunction, sometimes leading to a type of dementia called vascular dementia. While the first-line treatment for high blood pressure is regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet, blood pressure medications are also often needed, and may be especially important for maintaining memory and thinking skills as we age.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Dairmaid Hughes, Conor Judge, Robert Murphy, et al: “Association of Blood Pressure Lowering With Incident Dementia or Cognitive Impairment: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” JAMA May 19, 2020


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