Skip to main content

Are Concussions Sustained During Football Play Linked to High Blood Pressure Post-Career?

February 15, 2023
Download Paper

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition in American men, including former NFL players. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the “force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high.” When blood pressure stays elevated over long periods, it can lead to cardiovascular conditions like stroke and cognitive impairment or decline.

While we know there are several risk factors for hypertension, including smoking, weight gain, diabetes, aging, and identifying as Black, the link between concussion during NFL play and later-life hypertension is unknown.

A recent Football Players Health Study publication used a survey of 4,168 former NFL players that asked about:

  • Concussion symptoms during NFL play
  • Lifestyle factors (e.g., smoking, body mass index or BMI)
  • Current health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes

We then used this information to examine whether concussion history was related to post-career reports of high blood pressure.

What we found:

  • Among 4,168 former NFL players, those reporting high numbers of concussion symptoms during playing years were almost twice as likely to report high blood pressure post-career.
  • The risk of high blood pressure gradually increased with more concussion symptoms, even after taking into account smoking, older age, diabetes, race, and elevated BMI.

What this means for you and other former NFL players:

  • Addressing high blood pressure/blood pressure management at any age can be protective for long-term heart and brain health.
    Even brief experiences with hypertension in early adulthood can lead to later-life health issues, such as heart disease and cognitive impairment or decline.
  • Our results suggest that screening and proactive hypertension treatment, even in relatively young former players, may reduce the risk of heart disease and cognitive impairment.
  • Former players who are concerned about cognitive impairment or heart health may want to have their blood pressure checked and managed by a healthcare provider.

These results underscore the importance of research to better understand the mechanisms by which concussion might relate to development of high blood pressure. Based on this study, future research should investigate whether some cognitive decline may be prevented or reduced in former NFL players through high blood pressure medication and/or lifestyle changes.

Action items for former players:

  • Know your numbers: It is important to monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis either at your doctor’s office or by using at-home blood pressure cuffs and discuss results with your doctor.
  • If you are concerned about your blood pressure, do not hesitate to contact your primary care doctor or another medical care provider. If you are concerned about your blood pressure, do not hesitate to contact your primary care doctor or another medical care provider. If you think you may be having issues with your heart, you can find a cardiologist through your health insurance, by asking friends and family, or your primary care doctor.
  • Hypertension at any age can have long-lasting implications for heart and brain health. It is important to be proactive about maintaining healthy blood pressure through exercise, regular sleep, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, as well following medication-related and lifestyle recommendations from your healthcare providers. See recommendations from the American Heart Association for maintaining health blood pressure.
  • If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of cognitive impairment, you can request a comprehensive neurocognitive evaluation through your primary care physician (PCP) which can be done by a neurologist or another highly trained specialist.