Stroke survivors who have 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 8 March 2011, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study titled “Atrial fibrillation and incidence of dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis” was conducted by researchers at the Norwich Medical School of the University of East Anglia, Norfolk, UK. The research analysed 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 analysed, 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% 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,University of East Anglia, Norfolk, UK, “Options could include more rigorous management of cardiovascular risk factors or of atrial fibrillation, particularly in stroke patients.”
The study is the first high-quality meta-analysis of the potential role of atrial fibrillation in the development of dementia. Though the results show a clear association in stroke patients, Myint warned that signs of a link in the general population−as suggested by some earlier studies−were inconclusive. “There remains considerable uncertainty about any link in the broader population,” he said.
Myint commented that further high quality research was now needed to establish whether the link between atrial fibrillation and dementia in stroke patients was causal.
Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This important research suggests that those with atrial fibrillation who have previously had a stroke need to be identified and monitored more closely. We now need more research involving stroke survivors with this type of cardiovascular disease to determine whether controlling atrial fibrillation with medication could reduce the risk of getting dementia later in life.