February 27, 2012

Heart Arrhythmia Linked to Cognitive Decline

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Reviewed by: 
Chris Galloway, M.D. By:

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Atrial fibrillation plays role in later dementia

(dailyRx News) You may be aware of the short-term risks associated with heart arrhythmias. However, atrial fibrillation, a common type of abnormal heartbeat, also appears to come with added risks later in life.

Atrial fibrillation patients over the age of 55 appear to be at an added risk of cognitive decline and subsequent loss of independence in performing daily activities.

"Make an appointment with a neurologist if you notice cognitive changes."

Dr. Koon Teo, lead author from the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario, noted that dementia, admission to long term care facilities, and loss of independence, occurred in 34 percent of atrial fibrillation patients as compared to only 26 percent who did not have the heart arrhythmia.

During the study, researchers reviewed data from two randomized controlled trials, including ONTARGET and TRANSCEND, which involved more than 31,000 patients. Participants were at least 55 years old and came from 733 medical centers in 40 countries. About 70 percent were men. All had heart disease or diabetes, with some organ damage from the diseases.

Of the participants, 3.3 percent had atrial fibrillation, and another 6.5 percent developed the abnormal heartbeat during study follow up.

Cognitive function was measured at the beginning of the studies and again two years later through use of the mini-mental state exam to check for dementia or functional decline.

Investigators concluded that atrial fibrillation could be a predictor of later dementia and loss of independence in performing daily activities. It also increased patients' chance of later being admitted to a long term care facility.

The findings were independent of other factors such as whether patients previously experienced a stroke or took blood pressure medications.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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Reviewed by: 
Chris Galloway, M.D.
Review Date: 
February 22, 2012

Last Updated:
February 27, 2012