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Sudden blood pressure drops associated with long-term dementia risk


Orthostatic hypotension--low blood pressure when suddenly standing up--is associated with a 15 percent increase in a person's long-term risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to a twenty-four year study of more than 6,000 people published this week in PLOS Medicine by Arfan Ikram and Frank Wolters from Erasmus Medical Center, the Netherlands, and colleagues.

Orthostatic hypotension, which can trigger head rushes or dizzy spells upon standing, is known to cause transient cerebral hypoperfusion, or brief episodes of reduced blood flow to the brain. Previous studies have also shown that reduced blood flow in the brain, in the elderly, can contribute over time to brain dysfunction, but hadn't specifically looked at hypoperfusion caused by orthostatic hypotension. Between 1990 and 1992, Ikram and colleagues evaluated 6204 men and women without dementia or history of stroke in the Dutch population-based Rotterdam Study, with a mean age of 68.5. Those with a drop of more than 20mmHg in their systolic blood pressure or 10 mmHg in their diastolic pressure within 3 minutes of standing from a resting position were classified as having orthostatic hypotension. Then, they followed the participants until 2014, tracking the occurrence of dementia.

After a mean follow-up time of 15.3 years, 1176 (19 percent) of the participants in the study developed dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, Parkinson's dementia, and other dementias. Orthostatic hypotension at baseline, which was present in 1152 participants (18.6 percent), was associated with a 15 percent relative increase (95 percent confidence interval 1.00-1.34, p=0.05) in all dementia types. The association was even more pronounced for those who didn't have a compensatory increase in heart rate along with the momentary drop in blood pressure, with a 39 percent increase in long-term dementia risk (95 percent confidence interval 1.04-1.85, p=0.03). Variability in systolic blood pressure upon standing, even without meeting the formal criteria for orthostatic hypotension, was associated with an 8 percent increased risk of dementia (95 percent confidence interval 1.00-1.17, p=0.02). The study was limited to a mostly Caucasian population, so the associations may not hold true for other ethnicities.

Although this association between orthostatic hypotension and dementia does not necessarily represent a direct causal role, one possible explanation for the findings, the authors say, is that "brief episodes of hypoperfusion, elicited by sudden blood pressure drops, may lead to hypoxia [lack of oxygen] with detrimental effects on brain tissue."


Research Article


The Heart Brain Connection consortium is supported by the Netherlands Cardiovascular Research Initiative (CVON2012-06). The Rotterdam Study is sponsored by the Erasmus Medical Centre and Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), The Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMW), the Research Institute for Diseases in the Elderly (RIDE), The Netherlands Genomics Initiative, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, the European Commission (DG XII), and the Municipality of Rotterdam. Further support was obtained from the Netherlands Consortium for Healthy Ageing and the Dutch Heart Foundation (2012T008). None of the funding organisations or sponsors were involved in study design, in collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, in writing of the report, or in the decision to submit the article for publication.

Competing Interests:

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Wolters FJ, Mattace-Raso FUS, Koudstaal PJ, Hofman A, Ikram MA, Heart Brain Connection Collaborative Research Group (2016) Orthostatic Hypotension and the Long-Term Risk of Dementia: A Population-Based Study. PLoS Med 13(10): e1002143. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002143

Author Affiliations:

Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Department of Neurology, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Department of Geriatrics, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
Department of Radiology, Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands


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