Stroke survivors who have an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation may be at higher risk of developing dementia than stroke survivors who do not have the heart condition, according to research published in the March 8, 2011, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Atrial fibrillation affects more than two million Americans, and it is more common as people age. About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation. The heart's two upper chambers do not beat effectively in the condition, resulting in an irregular heart rhythm.
The research analyzed all of the available studies where people with atrial fibrillation were compared to people without atrial fibrillation and followed to determine who developed dementia over time.
A total of 15 studies were analyzed, with 46,637 participants with an average age of 72. The research found that stroke survivors with atrial fibrillation were 2.4 times more likely to develop dementia than stroke survivors who did not have the heart condition. About 25 percent of patients with stroke and atrial fibrillation were found to have developed dementia during follow-up.
"These results may help us identify potential treatments that could help delay or even prevent the onset of dementia," said study author Phyo Kyaw Myint, MD, of the University of East Anglia in Norfolk, U.K. "Options could include more rigorous management of cardiovascular risk factors or of atrial fibrillation, particularly in stroke patients."
Myint noted that the research on whether people who have atrial fibrillation but have not had a stroke have any greater risk of dementia was not conclusive.
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