New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has shown that people who receive a new diagnosis of atrial fibrillation are more likely to develop dementia in the next several years following the diagnosis compared to the general population.
The study included over 195,000 people who had health records with a health care company in California. Half of the participants had a recent diagnosis of atrial fibrillation while the other half were matched controls with no atrial fibrillation diagnosis. The participants’ health records were then reviewed for an average of three years for new diagnoses of dementia.
The results showed that people who had been newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation had a 13% increased risk of developing dementia during the follow-up period. The risk was higher if the person diagnosed with atrial fibrillation was younger than 65 years old, which increased their chances of a dementia diagnosis by 65%. The risk was also 20% greater in people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation who did not have chronic kidney disease.
Atrial fibrillation is generally linked to an increased risk of having a stroke or heart failure, both of which are due to the increased chances of having a blood clot in the heart. However, the mechanism behind the independent link between atrial fibrillation and dementia is not clear. Future research on the topic will likely include an exploration of the links between dementia and atrial fibrillation as well as a study of whether treating atrial fibrillation affects one’s risk of developing dementia. The authors of the study noted that patients who are newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation may want to talk to their doctor about their risk of developing dementia.