High Alzheimer's Risk For Those With Atrial Fibrillation

image:nhlbi.nih.govimage:nhlbi.nih.gov Sometimes, I think I am turning into an 'Alzheimer's blogger,' given all the recent columns I've written about new findings in the disease.  But I, and you, should look at it this way: Boomers and younger generations are terrified of getting Alzheimer's disease, so it's a good thing that scientists are focusing on it and learning more about its causes and possible preventative measures.  It is with this in mind that I share the following -- not to frighten you, but to pass on information that can help you get medical assistance if and when you need it.

A study conducted on 37,000 persons who were being treated for atrial fibrillation in 20 western hospitals, indicated that those who had atrial fibrillation were 44 percent more likely to develop dementia over a five-year period than those without the heart disorder.  For subjects under 70 years of age, the combination of atrial fibrillation and Alzheimer's was very serious, with 61 percent dying during the five-year period of study.

Atrial fibrillation can be treated effectively if caught in time.  It is an arrhythmia of the heart caused by the heart's electrical signals in the atria going "haywire," racing and beating sporadically so that the heart's chambers don't fill with blood.  Atrial fibrillation can accompany a heart attack or be symptomatic of heart disease, or it may occur by itself, but If the fibrillation persists untreated, it can lead to a blood clot.  (See below for sources of information on atrial fibrillation,)

The direct links between Alzheimer's disease and atrial fibrillation are being presented to the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in Boston this weekend.  Study author,  Dr. T. Jared Bunch, an electrophysiologist at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, said that the researchers could not say that atrial fibrillation was the cause of Alzheimer's, but that it is definitely related to heightened risk. "The next step is to look at the mechanistic association, to understand how one predisposes to the other," he said.

Dr. Bunch proposed three possible theories for the strong connection between atrial fibrillation and Alzheimer's disease:

  • 1) that because both problems are related to high blood pressure, blood flow to the brain is reduced; 
  • 2) that inflammation could be the underlying cause of both conditions, as markers such as C-reactive protein are found in both conditions; and/or
  • 3) that, over time, the atrial fibrillation is causing small strokes that  are damaging the brain.

Dr. Bunch indicated that in his future research he would start looking at subjects in their 50's to try to catch problems early.  There are a variety of treatments available for atrial fibrillation.  And there is one aggressive therapy: catheter ablation, in which a catheter is threaded into the heart to cauterize the area where atrial fibrillation originates.

"We should have a pretty good idea over the next few years whether this works out," Day said. "We have done it with 2,000 patients, and we are following these patients."

In the meantime, if you have high blood pressure, you better make sure you're getting treatment for it! And check your own pulse daily, just for good measure.

Read: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index
Read: eMedicineHealth

Keeping you posted...