MRI links gray-matter volume to blood pressure

Does a young adult's blood pressure have anything to do with his or her brain volume? It's certainly possible: In a study published online January 23 in Neurology, MRI showed that a loss of gray-matter volume coincided with above-normal blood pressure.

The research included 423 people (average age, 28 years) who underwent MRI brain scans and at least one blood pressure reading. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). For this study, high blood pressure was defined as values greater than 140/90 mm Hg. Among the subjects, 41% had normal blood pressure, 29% had blood pressure from 120/80 to 129/84 mm Hg, 19% had blood pressure from 130/85 to 139/89 mm Hg, and 11% had high blood pressure.

The researchers found that subjects with above-normal blood pressure were more likely to have lower gray-matter volume in areas including the frontal and parietal lobes, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the thalamus, compared with those with normal readings.

The findings could help determine whether, when, and how above-normal blood pressure in young adults should be monitored and managed, according to co-author Dr. Arno Villringer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.

"While the study does not prove that above-normal blood pressure causes these gray-matter alterations, this research suggests that treating high blood pressure or maintaining lower blood pressure in early adulthood might be essential for preventing the cascade from silent brain changes with no symptoms to organ-damaging conditions such as stroke and dementia," he said in a statement from the American Academy of Neurology.

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