Treating the Heart, and Perhaps the Head
Alzheimer's disease has hallmark changes in the brain, one of which is a collection of an abnormal type of protein, amyloid. Dr. Alzheimer, about a century ago, described plaques in the brains of patients with what we now call Alzheimer's disease. However, it has only been in the last few decades that there has been any understanding of what these plaques are made of and how they are produced.
Now, researchers are beginning to test drugs that may diminish these plaques and perhaps treat the underlying disease. Current medications only help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, not the underlying problem. Currently, there are many research trials attempting to identify a compound that will help get rid of the amyloid plaques. Valsartan, a medication that is already used to treat high blood pressure, was studied in mice and found to decrease the amyloid plaques. This occurred before and after the onset of the disease in the mice.
It is important to point out that research studies in animals are a long way from indicating that the drug Valsartan should be taken for Alzheimer's disease. However, this is another example of an exciting new possibility in the treatment of this devastating disease.
Currently, Valsartan is used to treat high blood pressure. Increased blood pressure has many potential complications for a person, including kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. The issue of stroke is important to those of us interested in Alzheimer's disease for a couple of reasons.
First, any additional brain injury, including a stroke, in a patient with Alzheimer's disease, adds more impairment to an already impaired brain. Second, high blood pressure may make the brain vulnerable to certain types of blood vessel aging. Similar blood vessel aging can be seen with amyloid collections in the blood vessels. This is an example of how the presence of high blood pressure, even if there have been no definite strokes, can increase the impairment that is associated with Alzheimer's disease and amyloid.
First, though medications such as Valsartan have been shown to have potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, their use in treating this disease is years away, if ever. Therefore, it is very premature to consider using this and similar medications to treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Second, even if this drug does not treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease, it is still an effective high blood pressure medication and has its role in the care of patients. The statement that should be associated with this is, given the risks to the brain and body from high blood pressure, if you are being treated for high blood pressure, continue your treatment and if you have high blood pressure and are not being treated for it, you should talk to your doctor about a possible need for treatment.