Delayed Anticoagulation Treatment Raises Dementia Risk in AF Patients

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common heart irregularity affecting over 3 million American adults. The condition is characterised by irregular heartbeat and is known to lead to several other conditions such as blood clots, stroke and even cardiac arrest in patients. The treatment for AF involves the use of blood thinners, such as antiplatelets or Warfarin, but there is often a delay in starting patients on anticoagulants after the initial diagnosis due to several factors such as old age, low risk of stroke and the option to choose other treatments such as aspirin, which is not a proven treatment to reduce the risk of stroke in AF patients. Fortunately, a new research gives doctors a strong reason to prevent this delay, as starting AF patients (even those at low risk) on anti-coagulants immediately after diagnosis can help keep dementia at bay.

Recently, researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, UT, discovered a link between administration of blood thinners used to treat AF and dementia, another common condition affecting a significant part of the senior population in America.

The study, which was based on more than 76,230 AF patients with no prior history of dementia, indicated that dementia rates increased with the delay in starting anticoagulation treatment for AF with an antiplatelet or Warfarin. The results of the study were presented at Heart Rhythm 2017, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 38th Annual Scientific Sessions, in Chicago on May 12, 2017.

“Our results reinforce the importance of starting anticoagulation treatment as early as possible after a patient is diagnosed with atrial fibrillation,” said Jared Bunch, MD, director of heart rhythm research at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and medical director for heart rhythm services for the Intermountain Healthcare system in Salt Lake City. “We saw for the first time that waiting even just 30 days to initiate anticoagulation treatment can increase a patient’s long-term risk of developing dementia.”

The research revealed that a delay of just 30 days in administering the treatment in patients with a low risk of stroke increased their chances of developing dementia by 30%. For patients at a high risk of stroke, a delay of 30 days increased their chances of developing dementia by 136%. The study, thus, reinforces the importance of treating patients diagnosed with AF without any delay to prevent the associated risk of mental decline.

AF affects a large population across the world. By leading a healthy lifestyle, patients can greatly reduce their risk of heart disease. However, once diagnosed, simply altering your lifestyle is not the solution. Apart from adopting a healthy lifestyle, it is crucial to treat AF in a timely manner with proper medication to not only reduce the risk of a stroke but also eliminate the increased risk of developing dementia with delay in treatment as indicated by the aforementioned research.