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Alzheimer's link to heart disease

18th May 2009

Researchers in the United States have carried out a survey in which a link has been found between atrial fibrillation and an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

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Atrial fibrillation is a common heart disorder which has already been linked in previous studies to other forms of dementia as well.

It causes the heart to beat in a chaotic rhythm, leading to a greater risk of blood clots. It can also lead to stroke if untreated.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, and the research has sparked hopes of possible new treatments arising from a better understanding of the condition.

Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center in Utah surveyed medical data from more than 37,000 patients.

Under the age of 70, atrial fibrillation patients had a 187% higher risk of developing all kinds of dementia.

The new findings also showed an increased risk of 130% for Alzheimer's, however.

Lead researcher Jared Bunch said the findings were the result of the first large-population study to show clearly that having atrial fibrillation put patients at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Age and genetics are also known to play a strong role in the development of Alzheimer's, which accounts for up to 80% of all dementia cases.

Poor heart health has also long been suspected as a risk factor.

But researchers presenting to the Heart Rhythm Society in Boston said more studies were need to explain the link to atrial fibrillation better.

Possible theories include the suspicion that atrial fibrillation damages the small blood vessels, and possibly thereby reducing blood flow to the brain.

It is also linked to tiny micro-strokes which might have a cumulative effect on the brain.

Inflammatory processes in the body are also found in atrial fibrillation patients, which might also increase the risk of Alzheimer's.

Researcher John Day said the team would focus next on exploring whether early treatment of atrial fibrillation could prevent dementia or the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said a balanced diet and regular exercise reduced the risk of both dementia and heart disease.

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