According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heart rhythm, are at higher risk of developing dementia.
The study included data from almost 200,000 adults whose medical records were available through a large health system in California. Half of the participants had been recently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF), and the other half were matched controls for the AF population. The medical records of both groups were reviewed for an average of three years after the start of the study and monitored for diagnoses of dementia.
Participants who had been recently diagnosed with AF had about a 13% higher risk of developing dementia during the follow-up period. The risk of developing dementia was particularly high among people who were diagnosed with AF before age 65 and for people who did not also have chronic kidney disease.
One of the authors noted that previous research on the link between dementia and AF has been somewhat conflicting, but the large sample size of this study may make the relationship more clear. AF has been linked to stroke risk, heart failure, and shortened lifespan in other studies. While stroke has been linked to dementia in the past, the independent link between AF and dementia has important implications for clinicians and public health officials. AF, which usually manifests as a very rapid heartbeat, can cause blood clots in the heart and has become more common in recent years. AF has many potential causes, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart defects, physical stress, and more. Symptoms are wide ranging and may include a sensation of rapid or fluttering heartbeat, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, and more.
Sources: JAHA, Science Daily