Recent studies have shown a link between atrial fibrillation, or AFib, and a higher risk of developing dementia. Researchers in Sweden have published a paper linking AFib with an increased risk of dementia. There is hope, though, as the research also showed ways that patients can work with their heart doctors to reduce these risks.

Reasons for the Risk

When you have AFib, the chambers of your heart that receive blood and send it to the ventricles (your atria) beat irregularly. This irregular beating is called fibrillation or fibrillating. When these atria fibrillate, blood doesn’t move normally inside the heart, and can instead pool at the bottom of the chamber. This pooled blood can form into clots, which can circulate through the bloodstream into the brain, causing strokes.

This new study shows that the compromised bloodstream connected with AFib not only increases the danger of developing a stroke, it can also affect the brain in a number of other ways. One of them is an increased risk of dementia. Memory and thinking skills were found to decrease faster among test subjects who had AFib than those who didn’t, making them 40 percent more likely to develop dementia.

A Simple Fix

While the news may be grim, it’s not hopeless. The study also looked at people taking medication for a wide variety of conditions. It found that people who were taking blood thinners for their heart disorder had a 60 percent reduction in the risk of developing dementia. Participants who took antiplatelet drugs and aspirin didn’t see the same encouraging results. Researchers state that assuming a cause-and-effect connection between AFib and dementia, over 50 percent of the current dementia cases could hypothetically have been prevented if the patient had been taking blood thinners. The researchers encourage a higher rate of blood thinner prescription for older heart patients.

Further Studies Warranted

If dementia is definitively linked to the blood clots formed during AFib, then preventing the AFib itself may well be the next step in preventing dementia. It’s very possible that, by having a catheter ablation or cryoablation to prevent the AFib from happening, you may be protecting yourself from future dementia danger. While studies haven’t shown this definitive link yet, it’s logical to include this factor in your decision-making process when considering ablation surgery in the future.

If you or a loved one are living with a heart rhythm disorder such as atrial fibrillation, contact Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A. Dr. Dilip Mathew is Board Certified in Cardiology & Cardiac Electrophysiology and has been serving patients in Sarasota and surrounding cities including Port Charlotte, Venice, Tampa and Sun City Center for over a decade.