Harvard Heart Letter

Mental decline from arrhythmia

Researchers have long suspected that the atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder, might be linked to declines in memory and thinking skills. Atrial fibrillation is a big cause of stroke, which can harm memory and thinking skills. But can it cause those troubles in someone who hasn't had a stroke?

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital tried to answer that question by reviewing 21 studies reporting this association. In 14 studies, people with atrial fibrillation had approximately a 30% increase in the risk of cognitive impairment or vascular dementia. In the seven studies that examined individuals after a stroke, those with atrial fibrillation had twice the risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia.

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