Does Slightly Raised Blood Pressure Really Increase Dementia Risk? (Or Does Treating it Just Increase Drug Company Profits?)

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

A widely reported study claims that a slightly increased blood pressure in middle life leads to an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.

As a result, doctors are now being encouraged to start treating more patients with drugs to lower their blood pressure. Doctors’ surgeries will be busier than ever with doctors writing out prescriptions for millions of apparently healthy patients.

In fact, at this rate, it surely won’t be long before just about everyone over the age of 35 will be taking drugs to lower their blood pressure.

But does a slightly raised blood pressure really lead to more dementia?

I worry that this study may not show that at all.

There are surely too many unknowns, too many other variables.

So, for example, did the researchers weigh the patients involved throughout the period involved? Did they check their daily stress levels? Did they assess mental agility? Did they study smoking and drinking habits in detail? These may all be factors which are extremely relevant.

I understand that the patients involved in the study were all civil servants. That is a pretty closely selected group of individuals. Some civil servants tend not to have intellectually demanding or stimulating jobs. Could it be (as I suspect) that this might be a factor in the development of dementia?

And what effect will drug taking have on dementia? Is it really safe to take drugs to lower slightly raised blood pressure – especially if those drugs are to be taken for decades?

What about the risks of accidental hypotension – a common problem among those taking drugs for blood pressure? Could that be a serious problem for many of the millions who will now start taking drugs?

Personally, I fear that this is another piece of research best ignored.

It rather reminds me of the research paper which showed that smokers did not develop dementia.

The people who commented on that paper apparently didn’t notice that many smokers never live beyond the age of 65 – and so never reach the age when dementia becomes commonest.

But the world’s medical correspondents leapt on this research with great enthusiasm. And I have no doubt that many apparently healthy individuals will now be taking medication for the rest of their lives.

Still, there will be one huge beneficiary from this research: the drug companies making pills to lower blood pressure.

This research will be worth billions to those pharmaceutical companies.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2018