Have an irregular heartbeat? You may have an increased risk of dementia

October 10, 2018, American Academy of Neurology
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

People with a particular kind of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation may experience a faster decline in thinking and memory skills and have a greater risk of dementia than those without atrial fibrillation, according to a study published in the October 10, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

With atrial fibrillation, a form of arrhythmia, the heart's normal rhythm is out of sync. As a result, may pool in the heart, possibly forming clots that may go to the brain, causing a stroke.

The good news from the study is that with atrial fibrillation who were taking anticoagulants, or blood thinners, to keep their blood from clotting were actually less likely to develop dementia than those who did not take blood thinners.

"Compromised blood flow caused by atrial fibrillation may affect the brain in a number of ways," said study author Chengxuan Qiu, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University in Sweden. "We know as people age, the chance of developing atrial fibrillation increases, as does the chance of developing dementia. Our research showed a clear link between the two and found that taking blood thinners may actually decrease the risk of dementia."

For the study, researchers looked at data on 2,685 participants with an average age of 73 who were followed for an average of six years as part of a larger study. Participants were examined and interviewed at the start of the study and then once after six years for those younger than 78 and once every three years for those 78 and older. All participants were free of dementia at the start of the study, but 243 people, or 9 percent, had atrial fibrillation.

Through face-to-face interviews and medical examinations, researchers gathered lifestyle and medical data on participants at the start of the study and during each follow-up visit. All were screened for atrial fibrillation, for overall thinking and , as well as dementia.

Over the course of the study, an additional 279 people, or 11 percent, developed atrial fibrillation, and 399, or 15 percent, developed dementia.

Researchers found that those who had atrial fibrillation had a faster rate of decline in thinking and memory skills than those without the condition and were 40 percent more likely to develop dementia. Of the 2,163 people who did not have , 278 people developed dementia, or 10 percent. Of the 522 people with irregular heartbeat, 121 developed dementia, or 23 percent.

Researchers also found that people who took blood thinners for atrial fibrillation had a 60 percent decreased risk of dementia. Of the 342 people who did not take blood thinners for the condition, 76 people developed dementia, or 22 percent. Of the 128 people taking blood thinners, 14 developed dementia, or 11 percent. There was no decreased risk among people who took an antiplatelet treatment like aspirin.

"Assuming that there was a cause-and-effect relationship between using blood thinners and the reduced risk of dementia, we estimated that about 54 percent of the cases would have been hypothetically prevented if all of the people with atrial fibrillation had been taking blood thinners," Qiu said. "Additional efforts should be made to increase the use of among older people with atrial fibrillation."

A limitation of the study was that researchers could not distinguish subtypes of atrial such as persistent or permanent. It is also possible that some cases of may have been missed among people who did not show any symptoms.

Explore further: Four out of ten patients with atrial fibrillation have unknown brain damage

Related Stories

Four out of ten patients with atrial fibrillation have unknown brain damage

August 26, 2018
Four out of ten patients with atrial fibrillation but no history of stroke or transient ischaemic attack have previously unknown brain damage, according to the first results of the Swiss Atrial Fibrillation Cohort Study (Swiss-AF) ...

Atrial fibrillation patients are at increased risk of dementia, regardless of anticoagulation use

November 15, 2016
Atrial fibrillation patients who use the drug, warfarin, to prevent harmful blood clots from forming in their hearts to lower risk of stroke are at higher risk of developing dementia than patients who use warfarin for non-atrial ...

Atrial fibrillation patients diagnosed with coronary heart disease face increased risk of dementia

May 11, 2018
Atrial fibrillation patients who are diagnosed with carotid artery disease face higher risks for developing dementia, according to new research from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City.

Rapid, irregular heartbeat may be linked to problems with memory and thinking

June 5, 2013
People who develop a type of irregular heartbeat common in old age called atrial fibrillation may also be more likely to develop problems with memory and thinking, according to new research published in the June 5, 2013, ...

Obesity might raise your risk for A-fib

May 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—Obese people are at increased risk for the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation, which can cause complications such as heart failure and stroke.

Recommended for you

Scientists identify method to study resilience to pain

December 14, 2018
Scientists at the Yale School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System have successfully demonstrated that it is possible to pinpoint genes that contribute to inter-individual differences in pain.

Parents' brain activity 'echoes' their infant's brain activity when they play together

December 13, 2018
When infants are playing with objects, their early attempts to pay attention to things are accompanied by bursts of high-frequency activity in their brain. But what happens when parents play together with them? New research, ...

In the developing brain, scientists find roots of neuropsychiatric diseases

December 13, 2018
The most comprehensive genomic analysis of the human brain ever undertaken has revealed new insights into the changes it undergoes through development, how it varies among individuals, and the roots of neuropsychiatric illnesses ...

Researchers find the cause of and cure for brain injury associated with gut condition

December 13, 2018
Using a mouse model of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)—a potentially fatal condition that causes a premature infant's gut to suddenly die—researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have uncovered the molecular causes of the ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

How the brain tells you to scratch that itch

December 13, 2018
It's a maddening cycle that has affected us all: it starts with an itch that triggers scratching, but scratching only makes the itchiness worse. Now, researchers have revealed the brain mechanism driving this uncontrollable ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.