BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Hypertension is a risk factor for cerebral small vessel disease, which includes white matter lesions (WML) and lacunar infarcts. These lesions are frequently observed on MRI scans of elderly people and play a role in cognitive decline. Preferably, one would like to evaluate the effect of hypertension before fluid-attenuated inversion recovery visible macrostructural lesions occur, possibly by investigating its effect on the microstructural integrity of the white matter. Diffusion tensor imaging provides measures of structural integrity.
METHODS: In 503 patients with small vessel disease, aged between 50 and 85 years, we cross-sectionally studied the relation between blood pressure, hypertension, and hypertension treatment status and diffusion tensor imaging parameters in both normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) and WMLs. All of the subjects underwent 1.5-T MRI and diffusion tensor imaging scanning. Fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity were calculated in both NAWM and WMLs.
RESULTS: Increased blood pressure and hypertension were significantly related to lower fractional anisotropy in both NAWM and WMLs and to higher mean diffusivity in WMLs. For hypertensives, odds ratios for the risk of impaired microstructural integrity (fractional anisotropy) were 3.1 (95% CI: 1.8 to 5.7) and 2.1 (95% CI: 1.2 to 3.5) in NAWM and WMLs, respectively, compared with normotensives. Fractional anisotropy odds ratios for treated uncontrolled subjects were 6.5 (95% CI: 3.3 to 12.7) and 2.7 (95% CI: 1.5 to 5.1) in NAWM and WMLs, respectively, compared with normotensives.
CONCLUSIONS: Our data show that diffusion tensor imaging may be an appropriate tool to monitor the effect of blood pressure and the response to treatment on white matter integrity, probably even before the development of WMLs on fluid-attenuated inversion recovery.