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Gradual increases in blood pressure from young adulthood to middle age increased the risk of poor brain health in older age, a 2022 study found. Having higher blood pressure over time damaged the brain’s delicate blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the brain.

The study involved 885 adults whose blood pressures were monitored regularly over a 30-year period. Using magnetic resonance imaging studies, researchers assessed the participants' brain health at the beginning and end of the study period.

The researchers found that participants who had either high blood pressure in young adulthood or moderate blood pressure that gradually increased over time showed marked signs of microvascular disease in the white matter of their brains. The two groups also showed reduced blood flow in the gray matter of their brains.

Microvascular disease, also called small vessel disease, is a condition characterized by blood vessel dysfunction. It commonly occurs with aging and contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and stroke. Small vessel disease in the brain contributes to approximately 50 percent of dementia cases worldwide.

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