White matter lesions are frequently found on cerebral MRI scans of elderly people and are thought to be important in the pathogenesis of dementia. Hyper tension has been associated with the presence of white matter lesions but this has been investigated almost exclusively in cross-sectional studies. We studied prospectively the association of these lesions with the duration and treatment of hypertension. We randomly sampled 1077 subjects aged between 60 and 90 years from two prospective population-based studies. One-half of the study subjects had their blood pressure measured between 1975 and 1978 and the other half between 1990 and 1993. All subjects underwent 1.5 T MRI scanning; white matter lesions in the subcortical and periventricular regions were rated separately. Subjects with hypertension had increased rates of both types of white matter lesion. Duration of hypertension was associated with both periventricular and subcortical white matter lesions. This relationship was influenced strongly by age. For participants with >20 years of hypertension and aged between 60 and 70 years at the time of follow-up, the relative risks for subcortical and periventricular white matter lesions were 24.3 [95% confidence interval (CI) 5.1-114.8] and 15.8 (95% CI 3.4-73.5), respectively, compared with normotensive subjects. Subjects with successfully treated hypertension had only moderately increased rates of subcortical white matter lesions and periventricular white matter lesions (relative risk 3.3, 95% CI 1.3-8.4 and 2.6, 95% CI 1.0-6.8, respectively) compared with normotensive subjects. For poorly controlled hypertensives, these relative risks were 8.4 (95% CI 3.1-22.6) and 5.8 (95% CI 2.1-16.0), respectively. In conclusion, we found a relationship between long-standing hypertension and the presence of white matter lesions. Our findings are consistent with the view that effective treatment may reduce the rates of both types of white matter lesion. Adequate treatment of hypertension may therefore prevent white matter lesions and the associated cognitive decline.

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Brain: a journal of neurology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

de Leeuw, H.F, de Groot, J.C, Oudkerk, M, Witteman, J.C.M, van Gijn, J, Breteler, M.M.B, & Hofman, A. (2002). Hypertension and cerebral white matter lesions in a prospective cohort study. Brain: a journal of neurology. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/9876