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High blood pressure means poor heart health. Right? Well, you’re not wrong in thinking that hypertension can lead to cardiac issues. But that’s not all it does.
A study from the George Institute of Global Health suggests that both low and high blood pressure were associated with a greater risk of dementia in men, but for women, the risk of dementia increased as blood pressure went up.
Lead author Jessica Gong said that while more research was needed to verify these findings, they may point to better ways of managing risk.
“Our results suggest a more tailored approach to treating high blood pressure could be more effective at preventing future cases of dementia,” she said.
Dementia is fast becoming a global epidemic, currently affecting an estimated 50 million people worldwide. This is projected to triple by 2050 – mainly driven by ageing populations. Rates of dementia and associated deaths are both known to be higher in women than men.
Dementia can be best described as cognitive decline, with pronounced symptoms that include deterioration in thinking, memory, and the ability to perform daily tasks. Experts insist that dementia is NOT the part and parcel of the normal ageing process.
In the absence of significant treatment breakthroughs for dementia, the focus has been on reducing the risk of developing the disease and cardiovascular risk factors are increasingly recognised as contributors to different types of dementia.
To examine sex differences in major cardiovascular risk factors for dementia, George Institute researchers used the UK Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database that recruited 502,489 Britons aged 40-69 years (free from dementia at study initiation) between 2006 and 2010.
Researchers found that current smoking status, diabetes, high levels of body fat, having had a prior stroke, and low socioeconomic status were all associated with a greater risk of dementia to a similar degree in women and men.
But when it came to blood pressure, the relationship with dementia risk between the sexes was different. Although the reason for this wasn’t clear, the authors proposed some possible explanations.
“Biological differences between women and men may account for the sex differences we saw in the relationship between blood pressure and the risk of dementia,” said Ms Gong.
“But there may also be differences in medical treatment for hypertension. For example, women are less likely to take medication as prescribed by their healthcare provider than men and maybe taking more medications and experiencing more side effects.”
While there are no effective treatments for dementia, trying to reduce the burden of the disease by encouraging healthier lifestyles is the priority, and the strongest evidence points to blood pressure management.
“Our study suggests that a more individualised approach to treating blood pressure in men compared to women may result in even greater protection against the development of dementia,” said Professor Mark Woodward, the study co-author.