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Dementia Risk Higher in Atrial Fibrillation Patients With Carotid Artery Disease

Dementia Risk Higher in Atrial Fibrillation Patients With Carotid Artery Disease

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  • A study reports a higher risk of dementia in atrial fibrillation patients diagnosed with carotid artery disease.
  • Atrial fibrillation alone has been earlier shown to be a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline.
  • Monitoring and screening patients early on for both conditions can help reduce the combined risk of developing dementia.

New research from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City states that atrial fibrillation patients who are diagnosed with carotid artery disease face higher risks of developing dementia.


Dementia Risk Higher in Atrial Fibrillation Patients With Carotid Artery Disease

The results of the study will be presented during the Heart Rhythm Society's 39th annual Scientific Sessions in Boston.

Link between Atrial Fibrillation and Dementia

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart arrhythmia in the world; it affects more than 2.7 million American adults. Earlier research suggests that the abnormal heart rhythms that occur in atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and clot in the heart producing inconsistent blood flow to the brain. The blood clots can also break free causing a stroke. Both consequences of atrial fibrillation can contribute to the onset of dementia or a decrease in cognitive function.

Link between Carotid Artery Disease and Dementia

Carotid artery disease affects more than 200,000 new patients each year and mostly people over 60 years of age. In the disease, the carotid artery, the main artery leading from the brain to the heart gets blocked due to a gradual build-up of plaque in people as they age, restricting blood flow to the brain. But unfortunately, the disease mostly remains silent and is not diagnosed until the person suffers a stroke due to the block.

Both atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease have similar risk factors that include age, weight, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.

The new study shows that a combination of the two diseases and the fact that both of them severely impact blood flow to the brain significantly increases a patient's chances of developing dementia.

"Our team of researchers has been studying links between atrial fibrillation and dementia. This new data stresses the continued need for physicians to monitor and screen patients for both carotid artery disease and atrial fibrillation, especially patients who have risk factors of either disease, said Victoria Jacobs, PhD, a clinical researcher with the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute."


A population of 6,786 patients with carotid artery disease but with no history of dementia, where the average age of the patients was 71.6 years old and 55.6 percent of them were male were studied.

Within this group, patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (twenty-one percent) were compared to those with no diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.

The group of patients who had atrial fibrillation and who were diagnosed with carotid artery disease faced higher risks of developing dementia

The study results can help providers and patients reduce the onset of dementia through early awareness and recognition.

"Atrial fibrillation and carotid artery disease are treatable, and addressing those diseases early on can help reduce the risk of developing dementia," said Dr. Jacobs. "Physicians should be discussing the treatment options with patients who are at risk to help educate them about what they can do to live the healthiest life possible. Patients should be engaged in their own healthcare, knowledgeable about their risks, and active in maintaining healthy lifestyles. Neither disease should be accepted passively, because both are treatable, and treatment is especially important given the benefit of helping to prevent or postpone dementia."

In the future, researchers will continue to analyze the data to compare it among different groups. This will help identify other patterns that may exist in a patient's risk of developing dementia.


Dementia is a term that describes a group of symptoms that is associated with a decline in memory or other cognitive skills like thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia can be severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the dementia population. The second most common dementia type is vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke. There are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia - some are reversible and others irreversible. Dementia due to thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies are reversible.

Reference :
  1. Atrial Fibrillation Patients Diagnosed with Carotid Artery Disease Face Increased Risk of Dementia, New Study Finds - (https://intermountainhealthcare.org/news/2018/05/atrial-fibrillation-carotid-artery-disease-increased-risk-dementia/)

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