High blood pressure is considered an important risk factor for cerebral white matter lesions (WMLs) in the aging population. In a longitudinal population-based study of 665 nondemented persons, we investigated the longitudinal relationship of systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and pulse pressure with annual progression of WMLs. Means of blood pressure were calculated over a 5-year period before longitudinal MRI scanning. WML progression was subsequently measured on 2 scans 3.5 years apart. We performed analyses with linear regression models and evaluated adjustments for age, sex, cardiovascular risk factors, and baseline WML volume. In addition, we evaluated whether treatment of hypertension is related to less WML progression. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly associated with annual WML progression (regression coefficient [95% confidence interval], 0.08 [0.03; 0.14] mL/y and 0.09 [0.03; 0.15] mL/y per SD increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively). Pulse pressure was also significantly associated with WML progression, but not independent from hypertension. After adjustment for baseline WML volume, only systolic blood pressure remained significantly associated: 0.05 (0.00; 0.09) mL/y per SD increase. People with uncontrolled untreated hypertension had significantly more WML progression than people with uncontrolled treated hypertension (difference [95% confidence interval], 0.12 [0.00; 0.23] mL/y). The present study further establishes high blood pressure to precede WMLs and implies that hypertension treatment could reduce WML progression in the general population.
Keywords: aging; blood pressure; epidemiology; hypertension; pulse pressure; white matter lesions/hyperintensities.