FRIDAY, Nov. 30, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- High blood pressure reduces blood flow to the brains of Alzheimer's patients and exacerbates the symptoms of the disease, a new study finds.
A team at the University of Pittsburgh used MRI to measure brain blood flow in older adults, including 20 Alzheimer's patients (10 with hypertension and 10 without); 48 normal adults (38 with hypertension and 10 without); and 20 people with mild cognitive impairment (10 with hypertension and 10 without).
Mild cognitive impairment affects brain functions such as language, attention and reasoning, and is a transition stage between normal age-related brain deficits and increased levels of dementia.
All the participants with hypertension showed substantially reduced blood flow in the brain. Alzheimer's patients with hypertension had the lowest levels of blood flow, but the normal adults with hypertension had significantly less blood flow than normal adults without high blood pressure.
"While hypertension is not a cause of Alzheimer's disease, our study shows that it is another hit on the brain that increases its vulnerability to the effects of the disease," study co-author Dr. Cyrus Raji, a Ph.D. candidate, said in a prepared statement.
"This study demonstrates that good vascular health is also good for the brain," added co-author Dr. Oscar Lopez, a professor of neurology and psychiatry. "Even in people with Alzheimer's disease, it is important to detect and aggressively treat hypertension and also to focus on disease prevention."
The findings were scheduled to be presented Wednesday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
The results of this study follow a report earlier this month in Neurology in which researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that Alzheimer's may progress more rapidly in patients with high blood pressure and a heartbeat problem called atrial fibrillation.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.