Harvard Women's Health Watch

A heart condition may foreshadow dementia, even without a stroke

New studies show resolving heart problems now may preserve brain function later.

The heart and brain occupy different spaces within our bodies, but they have strikingly similar needs—including a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood and a network of open, unobstructed blood vessels to deliver it.

Healthy arteries are essential for both organs—heart and brain—to function properly. The most common disease to affect the arteries is atherosclerosis. Cholesterol-filled plaques in the arteries of the heart can rupture, suddenly stopping blood flow to a part of the heart and causing a heart attack. Atherosclerosis of the heart also increases the chance of developing the irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, as well as heart failure.

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