By Jonathan Springston, Assistant Editor, AHC Media

The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that long-term high blood pressure can lead to cognitive impairment and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

The group made the announcement after authors reviewed studies and what is known about how high blood pressure is connected to various brain maladies.

“Many observational studies suggest treating hypertension may reduce the cognitive impact of high blood pressure, especially on vascular cognitive impairment, but observational studies are not designed to prove cause and effect,” Costantino Iadecola, MD, chair of the AHA’s writing committee that published their findings in a leading cardiology journal. “We know treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of heart diseases such as heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and stroke, and it is important to continue treating it to reduce the risks of these diseases. However, we need randomized, controlled studies – which do prove cause and effect – to determine if treating high blood pressure, especially in middle age, will also decrease the risk of cognitive impairment later in life.”

Although they acknowledged the risks, the authors couldn’t provide explicit treatment recommendations because most of the trials the committee reviewed didn’t directly explore the relationship between blood pressure and cognition. Further, clinicians likely need more long-term trials that investigate this issue since many years can pass between receiving a high blood pressure diagnosis and a cognitive impairment diagnosis.

“The SPRINT-MIND trial, a new study that is designed to evaluate the role of treating high blood pressure relative to cognitive impairment, may provide answers to some of the outstanding questions about treating high blood pressure relative to reducing the risk of cognitive impairment,” said Iadecola, who recommends clinicians treat high blood pressure on a case-by-case basis to protect the brain, heart, and kidneys.

For even more information about heart and brain health, be sure to check out Clinical Cardiology Alert and Neurology Alert.