Health In Focus
  • Survivors of childhood heart defects are more likely to develop early-onset dementia later in life
  • The risk of developing dementia increased by 60 percent than the general population without heart defects
  • Heart disease risk factors like atrial fibrillation, heart failure and diabetes may also increase the risk of dementia

People born with heart defects may be at a higher risk of developing premature dementia that starts before 65 years of age, finds a new study published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

With advancement in medicine, children born with heart defects survive into adulthood. According to a 2016 study published in Circulation, nearly 1.4 million adults are living with heart defects in the United States.
Childhood Heart Defects may Increase the Risk of Premature Dementia

Previous studies have shown that children with heart defects are at a higher risk of developing neurodevelopmental problems in childhood, such as epilepsy and autism. However, this is the first study to examine the risk for dementia later in adult life, said, Carina N. Bagge, B.Sc., a medical student in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology at Aarhus University Hospital in Aarhus, Denmark.

Link between Heart Defects and Premature Dementia

The research team used national medical databases and records covering all Danish hospitals to examine the occurrence of dementia. The data included 10,632 Caucasian adults (46 percent male) born with heart defects between 1890 and 1982. The data of each was matched with ten members of the general population of the same gender born the same year.

The research team found that the risk of dementia from any cause, including vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and others, in those born with heart defects was 60 percent higher than the general population.

The risk of early-onset dementia increased by 2.6 times (160 percent) before 65 years and the risk of dementia increased by 30 percent after 65 years.

The researchers examined individuals with heart defects over time to see the association between being born with a heart defect and developing dementia in later life. Though the research team found an association between heart defects and dementia, the study does not mean that every person who was born with a heart defect will develop dementia. The study observed a higher risk of dementia, however, it did not prove cause and effect.

"Our study involved an older population born when treatments for heart defects were more limited. Modern treatment has improved greatly, and as a result, we can't directly generalize these results to children born today. We need further work to understand the risks in the modern era," said Bagge, lead author of the study.

People born with heart defects are at a higher risk for developing other heart disease risk factors such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and diabetes. These risk factors which are common in people born with heart defects have also been shown to independently increase the risk of dementia.

"While we must be careful to appreciate these findings within the limitations of the study design, continued study of this association may yield important clinical screening and medical management strategies in the future, and there may even be opportunities discovered to aid in the prevention of dementia in this population," said Nicolas L. Madsen, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

About Heart Defects and Dementia

Heart defects are the most common type of congenital disability, affecting the structure of the heart. The defect can involve walls of the heart, valves, arteries, and veins near the heart. These defects can disrupt normal blood flow through the heart, or the blood flow can go in the wrong direction or be blocked completely.

Dementia, a neurological disorder is a prevalent problem among the elderly population. The number of dementia cases is expected to double every 20 years, resulting in 81.1 million cases in 2040. Dementia is a progressive impairment of the brain function, which can lead to an eventual loss of the ability to perform daily tasks. People with dementia have problems with memory, reasoning, and behavior.

A 2017 study in JAMA Neurology showed that problems in the vascular system (the heart and blood vessels that supply blood to the brain) could contribute to the development of dementia.

Reference :
  1. Risk factors for heart disease linked to dementia - (
  2. Heart disease as a risk factor for dementia - (
Source: Medindia

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