A comprehensive data analysis conducted by Adelaide researchers has shown that atrial fibrillation (AF) and an increased risk of cognitive impairment are linked.
The systematic review of more than 60 peer-reviewed studies was published in medical journal Europace and was written predominately by authors from the University of Adelaide.
Featuring contributions from Australian Heart Research (AHR) Mid-Career Fellow Associate Professor Rajiv Mahajan as corresponding author, the meta-analysis consisting of 2.8 million patients found that people with AF were more at risk of cognitive impairment.
AF is a common problem which causes the heart to beat in an abnormal rhythm, as well as shortness of breath and chest pain.
While it is known that AF is associated with an increased risk of complications like heart failure and stroke, the review found compelling evidence of its link to cognitive impairment.
It found that the risk of cognitive impairment in AF patients increased by 39%, even in the absence of a stroke, and the risk was two-fold after a stroke.
The association between the two persisted even after patients with previous stroke were excluded from the review.
Concerningly, the presence of AF resulted in early and more frequent cognitive impairment after an acute stroke.
The review also confirmed that cerebral microbleeds (CMB), a marker of cerebral small vessel disease, was associated with stroke and an increased risk of death in AF patients, with the risk of CMB increased by 38%.
A/Prof Mahajan and the authors hypothesized that patients with AF who also have conditions like hypertension or diabetes are more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment.
The authors concluded that further trials were needed to understand the cause of cognitive impairment, and so prevention strategies in patients with AF could be developed.
A/Prof Mahajan is a cardiologist and researcher at the Lyell McEwin Hospital and is undertaking a research project investigating AF as a risk factor for dementia as part of his Fellowship.
AHR and The Hospital Research Foundation Group are proud to support A/Prof Mahajan and look forward to providing our donors with more updates on his work in the future.