(KUTV) Atrial fibrillation is associated with dementia. Which is why, according to a recent study at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, protecting the brain has to be one of the very first thoughts when patients are diagnosed with A-Fib.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm.
“It’s a chaotic abnormal rhythm of the upper heart chambers. Instead of beating forcefully and contracting forcefully, they fibrillate,” says Dr. Jared Bunch with Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.
This means blood can become stagnant, a clot can form, and it can eventually cause a stroke. Dr. Bunch says if you’re diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, it’s critical to visit with your doctor and talk about stroke risk factors. These include: age, high blood pressure, diabetes, prior stroke, heart failure, and gender. Women have a higher risk of stroke.
“If you have two or more of these risk factors, then we need to start blood thinners right away. We don’t want to wait,” says Dr. Bunch.
If you wait, even just 30 days, a patient is more likely to develop dementia. With each delay there is about a 2x increased risk. This is because the longer you wait to start a blood thinner, the risk of injury to the brain goes up.
“It can be a big event like a stroke, or many small events that in accumulation impact the brain and cause dementia,” explains Dr. Bunch.
After starting blood thinners, it’s important to still treat risk factors associated with A-Fib such as sleep apnea and high blood pressure.
“In people that have high blood pressure, young people in their 20’s, we can start measuring memory loss in their mid to late 40’s, and so not letting people stay with high blood pressure for years is also critical,” says Dr. Bunch.