Brain imaging changes associated with risk factors for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease in asymptomatic patients

JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2014 Oct;7(10):1039-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2014.06.014.


Reviews of imaging studies assessing the brain effects of vascular risk factors typically include a substantial number of studies with subjects with a history of symptomatic cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease and/or events, limiting our ability to disentangle the primary brain effects of vascular risk factors from those of resulting brain and cardiac damage. The objective of this study was to perform a systematic review of brain changes from imaging studies in patients with vascular risk factors but without clinically manifest cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease or events. The 77 studies included in this review demonstrate that in persons without symptomatic cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, or peripheral vascular disease, the vascular risk factors of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hyperlipidemia, and smoking are all independently associated with brain imaging changes before the clinical manifestation of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. We conclude that the identification of brain changes associated with vascular risk factors, before the manifestation of clinically significant cerebrovascular damage, presents a window of opportunity wherein adequate treatment of these modifiable vascular risk factors may prevent the development of irreversible deleterious brain changes and potentially alter patients' clinical course.

Keywords: brain; cardiovascular; cerebral blood flow; cognitive; diabetes; glucose metabolic rate; gray matter; hyperlipidemia; hypertension; imaging; metabolic syndrome; obesity; smoking; vascular risk factor; white matter.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Asymptomatic Diseases
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Diabetic Angiopathies / epidemiology
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • White Matter / pathology


  • Glucose