A recent study adds to growing evidence linking atrial fibrillation is linked to dementia. In the latest study, researchers found that participants who had the condition were 33% more likely to develop dementia than participants who did not have atrial fibrillation.
Learn more about this study and the potential link between brain and heart health.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial Fibrillation is a common type of cardiovascular disease in seniors. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chamber flutter irregularly, resulting in an abnormal heart rhythm and decreased blood flow. While medication or shock treatment can help the heart return to its normal rhythm, atrial fibrillation is an ongoing condition for many people. The decreased blood flow and ineffective pumping of the heart can cause blood to clot, which can lead to stroke, which is why many people with atrial fibrillation take anticoagulants to prevent blood clots.
Researchers believe that even small strokes or a tiny amount of clotted matter can lead to cognitive decline and dementia, but it was the connection between atrial fibrillation and stroke that left researchers wondering about a potential link between atrial fibrillation and dementia.
Previous studies examining the link between the two had mixed results, some suggesting a connection and some finding no association between the two.
Atrial Fibrillation as a Risk Factor for Dementia
The latest study to analyze atrial fibrillation as a risk factor for dementia was led by M. Arfan Ikram of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and found that atrial fibrillation was linked with an increased risk for developing dementia over the next 20 years.
Study author Renée du Bruijn evaluated over 6,500 people with no signs of cognitive decline over the age of 55. Researchers found that 5% of the participants had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and 20% were diagnosed during the course of the study, which lasted 20 years. it was found that 15% of participants had developed dementia over the course of the study.
Researchers concluded that having atrial fibrillation increased the risk of dementia by 33%. Jared Bunch at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, in Murray, Utah, is encouraged by the study stating:
“Their study clearly adds to the growing body of evidence that atrial fibrillation is a significant risk factor for dementia.”
Researchers also note that atrial fibrillation was a stronger risk factor for younger participants with the risk of dementia, doubling for those under the age of 67 who had atrial fibrillation. They also noted that the longer a participant had atrial fibrillation, the higher the risk of dementia. Conversely, they found that atrial fibrillation did not increase the risk of dementia for older participants.
While the study suggests that there is a link between atrial fibrillation and that it may be a risk factor for dementia, researchers are not sure exactly what that link may be. It could be that the condition led to mini strokes that then brought on cognitive decline. Another theory is that the condition lowered blood flow to the brain which, in turn, could hasten cognitive decline.
More research needs to be done to determine if treating atrial fibrillation could slow the progress of dementia. Co-author of the study, Frank Wolters, said:
“Future studies should examine the impact of different types of treatment for atrial fibrillation and whether they reduce the risk of cognitive decline. That will be vital for prevention.”
Have you seen a link between atrial fibrillation and dementia in your loved one? Could this condition speed the progression of dementia? Share your story with us in the comments below.
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