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

Study points to surprising link between head injury and high blood pressure in retired NFL players

Photo of athletes playing football on a field at sunset
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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.

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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.