A US study found that middle-aged women with higher levels of a particular clotting factor developed brain damage linked to cognitive problems and vascular disease.
Researchers said treatments could be developed to target these clotting factors and prevent irreversible harm.
A team from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota used MRI to look for ‘white matter hyperintensities’ in the brains of 95 healthy postmenopausal women who took hormone treatments over four years.
These changes in brain structure appear as people age and have been linked to mild cognitive impairment and an increased risk of stroke. But little is known about how they form.
At the start of the study, the researchers tested the women for traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as BMI, smoking status and BP. They also checked for levels of a blood clotting factor known as thrombogenic microvesicles.
At the beginning, all women had white matter hyperintensities. The researchers found that those women with more thrombogenic microvesicles at the start of the trial went on to have larger areas of white matter hyperintensities after four years.
The association suggests the clotting factor ‘contributes to structural changes in the white matter of healthy postmenopausal women’, the researchers said.
Study author Kejal Kantarci from the Mayo Clinic said: ‘This study suggests that the tendency of the blood to clot may contribute to a cascade of events, leading to the development of brain damage in women who have recently gone through the menopause.’
She added: ‘Preventing the platelets from developing these microvesicles could be a way to stop the progression of white matter hyperintensities in the brain.’