Atrial Fibrillation linked to Reduced Cognitive Performance
Oct 24, 2006 - 6:09:37 PM

(Boston) — Researchers from Boston University have found a link between atrial fibrillation and low cognitive performance in men. Using a subset of participants from the Framingham Offspring Study, part of the long-running Framingham Heart Study, the team found an association between atrial fibrillation and poor mental functioning. The results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease.

The research team, led by Merrill Elias, a research professor of epidemiology in BU’s Mathematics and Statistics Department, found a link between atrial fibrillation and reduced cognitive function in areas such as visual organization, memory, attention, and concentration. Atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia, is a major risk factor for stroke and has been associated with reduced cardiac output, decreased blood flow to the brain, blood vessel blockages, and brain lesions.

The results of the new study showed that men with the abnormal heart rhythm, but free from senile dementia or stroke, had significantly lower scores on multiple tests of mental ability compared to men with no presence of atrial fibrillation.

Elias and his team related the presence of atrial fibrillation in participants to cognitive performance using the Framingham Offspring cognitive test battery. Relations between atrial fibrillation and test performance were statistically adjusted for relations between multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors, stroke, cardiovascular events, and treatment with drugs, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, age, and education. With these adjustments, atrial fibrillation was correlated to lower performance for the following abilities: abstract reasoning, visual memory, visual organization, verbal memory, scanning and tracking, and executive functioning.

The study included 1,011 Framingham Offspring Study males –59 with atrial fibrillation and 952 without. Women were excluded from the study due to the low incidence of atrial fibrillation.

“A variety of factors linking atrial fibrillation to decreased cognitive performance have been suggested, including undiagnosed stroke, lesions on the brain, and reduced cardiac output,” said Elias. “What we need now are additional studies that will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that cause men with atrial fibrillation to have poorer cognition.”

The Framingham Heart Study began in 1955 and has followed three generations of participants, measuring the incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke and determining the risk of various associated factors. The study, based in Framingham, MA., started before cardiovascular risk factors for heart disease and stroke were well understood and before patients were routinely treated for atrial fibrillation.

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