By staff writers

June 14, 2018 -- By tracking white-matter fibers in the brain, MR images have uncovered early signs of neurological damage in people with high blood pressure, which could be an indication of oncoming dementia, according to a study published online June 12 in Cardiovascular Research.

It is well-known that high blood pressure causes progressive organ damage and vascular risk factors that are associated with Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

With that in mind, Italian researchers performed 3-tesla MRI scans with a diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI) protocol on subjects ages 40 to 65 years who had no sign of structural damage to organs and no diagnosis of dementia. The goal was to find specific changes in the brain's white-matter microstructure among patients with high blood pressure and to determine if those abnormalities could be linked to decreased cognitive function.

The researchers found significant alterations in three specific white-matter tracts among patients with hypertension, as well as significantly worse performance in cognitive tests for executive functions, processing speed, memory, and related learning tasks. The changes weren't visible on conventional neuroimaging studies.

The findings could be used to target patients with medication earlier to prevent further declines in brain function, according to the group. In addition, the approach could be applied to other forms of neurovascular disease that are amenable to early intervention.

Copyright © 2018

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