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Having a heart flutter may be associated with increased risk of dementia finds new study

Relaxnews (AFP) logoRelaxnews (AFP) 10/11/2018

a man looking at the camera: Having an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation may be linked to an increased risk of dementia, according to new research. © Provided by AFPRelaxNews Having an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation may be linked to an increased risk of dementia, according to new research. New research has found that people with atrial fibrillation --  an irregular, rapid heart rate also known as a heart flutter -- may have a greater risk of dementia and experience a faster decline in thinking and memory skills.

Carried out by researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University in Sweden and published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the new study looked at 2,685 participants with an average age of 73 who were followed for an average of six years.

None of the participants had dementia at the start of the study, but screenings showed that 243 people, or 9 percent, had atrial fibrillation.

Participants were also screened for overall thinking and memory skills.

The findings showed that participants who had atrial fibrillation had a faster rate of decline in thinking and memory skills than those without the condition.

In addition, those with atrial fibrillation were also 40 percent more likely to go on to develop dementia. 

However, the results also showed that among those participants with atrial fibrillation, those who took anticoagulants, or blood thinners for it had a 60 percent decreased risk of dementia compared to those who did not take blood thinners, although antiplatelet treatments like aspirin appeared to have no effect.

"Compromised blood flow caused by atrial fibrillation may affect the brain in a number of ways," explained study author Chengxuan Qiu, Ph.D. "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."

"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 dementia cases would have been hypothetically prevented if all of the people with atrial fibrillation had been taking blood thinners," Qiu added. "Additional efforts should be made to increase the use of blood thinners among older people with atrial fibrillation."

Recent research has also suggested that exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and improving sleep quality could also help reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Video: Study: Smoking and Dementia Might Be Linked (USA Today)

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