Health scare of the week
Blood pressure and brain volume
Scientists have long thought that high blood pressure takes decades to affect the brain. But a new study suggests that young adults with elevated blood pressure also often show signs of brain shrinkage. Researchers recruited 423 people ages 19 to 40, who underwent an MRI brain scan and at least one blood pressure reading. They found that participants with higher blood pressure readings—even within the 120-140 systolic range, which is generally considered normal—had less gray matter volume in several areas of the brain than those whose readings were under 120. The finding counters the assumption that brain-volume changes happen only in older people with hypertension. “This is a gradual change that probably happens throughout life, and ends where people have a stroke or cognitive decline,” lead author H. Lina Schaare, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, tells The New York Times. “A blood pressure around 130 in young people is not necessarily benign.” Schaare now wants to examine whether reduced gray matter volume at an early age can increase risk of stroke, dementia, and other conditions.