The medication can reduce risk of strokes and heart attacks and even help prevent the brain lesions linked to Alzheimer’s
Nearly 1 in 5 US adults with hypertension are taking meds that increase blood pressure
More than half of US adults with high blood pressure are on statins and other blood pressure-lowering drugs that may actually heighten their risk of stroke, heart attack and dementia, a new study shows.
The study, published in the journal Stroke, found that the medication can reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks, yet increases patients’ odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease later on.
For the study, doctors at the Cooper Clinic and Duke University examined records from over 2 million patients who were enrolled in the VA health care system in North Carolina. They wanted to assess how often people taking such drugs were prescribed antihypertensive drugs at hospital or physician appointments.
Patients who were prescribed the drugs were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease compared with other patients.
“We know statins are important in reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but we’re not used to thinking about other aspects of the risk of dementia,” said Dr Amal Kapadia, a lead author of the study and a researcher at the Duke Center for Clinical and Translational Science.
Individuals take statins for several reasons, including protecting against heart attacks and strokes. But further study is needed to know what is behind the link between taking statins and increasing dementia risk, the authors concluded.
“Statins are more commonly prescribed for cardiovascular conditions than for mental health conditions,” Kapadia said. “We need to figure out if the risk of developing dementia [in patients on statins] is related to cardiovascular or from something else, and then determine if patients who take statins at the VA are at greater risk of developing dementia.”
Because there is a huge variation in the public’s understanding of hypertension – or high blood pressure – depending on what type of prescription it is prescribed, the authors concluded that doctors need to be more cautious about prescribing such medications in individuals considered high risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Previous research has looked at patients who take statins and have taken those statins for a long time, with few concerns. But the latest study identified a discrepancy that researchers hope to address with future research.
“It would be reasonable to say they’re being prescribed at the same rate across the VA system,” Kapadia said. “We need to learn how that rate affects the dementia risk.”
Next, researchers hope to track the dementia risk in more than 10,000 veterans enrolled in the VA system, looking for any connections between this group’s treatment history and diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Earlier this year, two studies highlighted the gaps in understanding of the link between statins and dementia.
One study – involving more than 1 million participants – found that lower blood pressure increases dementia risk. Lowering blood pressure not only stops stroke and heart attack, but can help prevent the brain lesions linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
This month, however, another study looked at the age at which people first began taking statins and found no effect on dementia risk.
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Earlier this month, a similar study found that those who take statins don’t stop smoking either. Smoking lowers blood pressure, which means they are less likely to develop dementia as well.
Over the next five years, Kapadia and colleagues plan to follow a group of 8,000 heart attack survivors aged over 65 to determine the likelihood of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s among those who don’t smoke or who first started taking statins between 1990 and 2010.
“We think about heart disease at the same time as [dementia],” Kapadia said. “We need to find out if these people have risk factors that they didn’t have before – their lifestyle or their lifestyle issues that were linked to high blood pressure but not smoking.”
“If we treat the one that is already there, but allow the other person to develop dementia, we might need to think of another preventive strategy for dementia.”