More education could reduce chance of cerebral small vessel disease in later life

A study, including data from more than 1,000 Generation Scotland volunteers, has found that early life experiences can affect cerebral small vessel disease risk.


Cerebral small vessel disease is caused by damage to the blood vessels supplying the brain, which can lead to stroke and dementia. The cause of the blood vessel damage is unclear but a person's lifestyle, such as high blood pressure, smoking or a bad diet, can increase the risk of cerebral small vessel disease and stroke.

Some research suggests that events in early life may also be important. Birth weight, size at birth, childhood IQ, education and socioeconomic status - a person's income combined with where they live - could potentially have an effect. However, many earlier studies have not considered the effect of lifestyle, such as smoking, when looking at the links between early life and cerebral small vessel disease.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, aimed to examine whether certain birth and childhood factors increase a person's chance of getting cerebral small vessel disease in adulthood. The research controlled for the effect of age, sex, high blood pressure, smoking behaviour and adult socioeconomic status.

Data were taken from four groups of healthy volunteers, mostly over the age of 60:

  • Stratifying Resilience & Depression Longitudinally (STRADL) cohort - including over 1,000 Generation Scotland volunteers
  • Dutch Famine Birth cohort
  • Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC 1936)
  • Simpson cohort.

Brain imaging was used to examine the presence and severity of different indicators of cerebral small vessel disease. Early life factors were taken from birth or childhood records, or collected retrospectively in adulthood.

The researchers found that birth factors such as increasing birth weight were linked with lower risk of cerebral small vessel disease. In childhood, increasing childhood IQ and more education were associated with decreased risk of cerebral blood vessel disease in adulthood.

These results suggest that risk for cerebral small vessel disease may start in early life. This may explain the association between early life factors and risk of stroke and dementia. It suggests that investing in early child development may help to improve lifelong brain health, which could prevent dementia and stroke in older age.

The research was published in the journal Brain, you can read the full article below:

Early life predictors of late life cerebral small vessel disease in four prospective cohort studies