For Former Football Players, Concussion and Hypertension Go Hand in Hand

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Summary: The chance a former football player will be diagnosed with hypertension when they retire rises in step with the number of concussions they experienced during their career. High blood pressure may be another driver of cognitive decline in conjunction with repeated TBI for football players. However, controlling blood pressure could help slow both cardiovascular and cognitive decline.

The chance that former professional football players will be diagnosed with high blood pressure — a known risk factor for cardiovascular and cognitive dysfunction — rises in step with the number of concussions the athletes sustained during their careers, according to new research by investigators for the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University.

The results held true even after researchers took into account established risk factors known to drive the risk for high blood pressure, or hypertension, including age, body mass index, race, smoking status, and a diagnosis of diabetes. 

The results of the study, published Feb. 7 in Circulation, suggest that high blood pressure may be yet another driver of cognitive decline — a condition strongly linked with professional football play in previous studies and believed to stem primarily from repeated head injury.

The findings also point to high blood pressure as a modifiable risk factor that could halt or slow both neurologic and cardiovascular damage in former players.

Given that cardiovascular illness remains a top killer in former athletes and in the general population, the researchers said the results should be an impetus for doctors, former players, and their families to consider a history of prior head injury when screening patients for hypertension — even in the absence of other risk factors for this condition. 

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