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Irregular heart beat linked to dementia

A type of irregular heart beat called atrial fibrillation has been linked with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a large study. Atrial fibrillation is a heart disorder in which the upper chambers of the heart quiver uselessly rather than pumping blood.

The researchers have been surprised by the findings and have three different possible explanations for the link.

Video: What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

I liked this video’s explanation of how the heart beats, with a clever inside view of the heart. It shows what happens to the heart when it is in atrial fibrillation and what can be done to help.

The irregular heart beat study

Researchers studied 37,000 people treated at 20 hospitals in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. They found that people with atrial fibrillation were 44% more likely to develop dementia over a 5 year period than those who had a regular heart beat. For people over 70 years, those with atrial fibrillation were 130% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The study participants with atrial fibrillation and dementia were 61% more likely to die during the 5 year study.

Possible explanations from the researchers

1. High blood pressure. Both atrial fibrillation and dementia are related to high blood pressure, which causes heart function to deteriorate. This results in diminished blood flow to the brain, starving brain cells of oxygen. The researchers suggest that early treatment of high blood pressure may prevent dementia.

2. Inflammation. Inflammation is an underlying problem in both conditions, as the molecule C-reactive protein has been found in both cases. The researchers suggest that treatment with statins, which have anti inflammatory qualities could help.

3. Mini strokes. Studies have shown the presence of small strokes in both atrial fibrillation and dementia. Researchers suggest that treatment may involve preventing blood clots that cause small strokes. The drug Coumadin or warfarin helps prevent clot formation in those who monitor their INR.

The researchers plan to further investigate the link between atrial fibrillation and the high risk of dementia. The study author Dr Bunch presented the findings at the Heart Rhythm Society’s annual meeting.

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