How Atrial Fibrillation Can Lead to Dementia

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Researchers say it’s critical for medical professionals to look for biomarkers of brain injury in people with AFib.
Patients with an abnormal heartbeat also show signs of silent brain injury.
That’s according to a study recently presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Chicago.
Researchers say they found that patients with atrial fibrillation can experience chronic injury to the brain that may not be obvious through symptoms.
The findings could have important implications in identifying patients at risk of neurodegenerative problems such as dementia and cognitive decline.
“Atrial fibrillation is the most common sustained abnormal heart rhythm and will impact 30 to 40 percent of our aging population. Dementia is strongly associated with atrial fibrillation and is becoming a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Atrial fibrillation patients develop dementia earlier and the progression is more rapid. How we identify and treat atrial fibrillation can impact dementia risk,” Dr. Jared Bunch, co-author of the study and medical director of Heart Rhythm Services for Intermountain Healthcare, told Healthline.
What researchers uncovered
Bunch and his colleagues from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, Salt Lake City examined 246 patients.
Of them, 198 had atrial fibrillation and 48 didn’t.
The researchers obtained plasma samples from the participants and tested them for four different biomarkers that are associated with brain injury.
Of the four biomarkers tested, they found that three of them were notably higher in patients who had atrial fibrillation.
The researchers say it’s crucial to identify these early indications of brain injury.
They say if patients are experiencing ongoing injury of this kind, they are at higher risk of developing depression and neurodegeneration, such as dementia and cognitive decline.
“Biomarkers are critical to identify patients at risk of developing dementia. Biomarkers are also critical to understand the global brain and potential injuries that occur that may not be detected by our routine brain scans or cognitive testing. With more specific tools, we can better identify our therapies for atrial fibrillation to improve stroke and dementia rates,” Bunch said.What you should know about AFib
Atrial fibrillation, also referred to as AFib, is the most common form of heart arrhythmia.
Arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats too slowly, too quickly, or in an irregular rhythm.For some people, atrial fibrillation may be an ongoing, permanent condition, while for others, the condition occurs in brief stints.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation.