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Big Changes in Blood Pressure Could Spell Big Trouble

Wide fluctuations in blood pressure may indicate an increased risk of stroke, suggests a study reported in the Archives of Neurology in November, 2011.

For the study, researchers followed 686 people over two years. None of the participants had dementia. Each participant visited the doctor three times during the study period; blood pressure was measured at each visit.

Participants were divided into four groups, based on their blood pressure:

  • those with normal blood pressure and only small fluctuations;
  • those with normal blood pressure and big fluctuations;
  • those with high blood pressure and small fluctuations; and
  • those with high blood pressure and big flucturations

At the third visit, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain to look for injury to brain tissues. Signs of brain injury were most likely in the groups with big fluctuations -- even if blood pressure was normal. People with both high blood pressure and big fluctuations were at the greatest risk of brain injury.

This study serves as a wake-up call to doctors and patients alike. Most doctors focus on blood pressure measurements taken at a specific time rather than fluctuations over time. This study suggests that treating these fluctuations may be as important as keeping blood pressure in a normal range.

You can find out how much your blood pressure fluctuates by monitoring your blood pressure regularly at home. Record the results and bring them to your next doctor's visit. If your doctor has prescribed medication for high blood pressure, be sure to take it as prescribed.