Blood-thinning drugs reduce dementia risk in people with abnormal heart rhythm

25 October 2017        

Category: BHF Comment

A new study published in the European Heart Journal claims that blood-thinning drugs can not only reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) but also significantly reduce risk of dementia. 

Scan showing human brain cross section

Blood clots in the brain

Atrial Fibrillation is one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm and a major cause of stroke. Blood-thinning drugs like warfarin and a newer class of drugs called NOACs are the most effective treatments to reduce the risk of stroke in people with AF.

It's known that AF can increase a person's risk of dementia, but whether blood-thinning drugs can lower AF sufferers' risk of developing this disease is unclear.

What did the researchers find?

In this study, 444,106 patients with atrial fibrillation were involved. Those who were taking blood-thinning drugs the start of the study, had a 29 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than patients who were not taking them. An even bigger reduction in dementia risk - 48 per cent - was seen in those who continued taking the blood-thinning treatment. 

The researchers also found that the sooner oral blood-thinning treatment was started after a diagnosis of AF, the greater the protective effect was against dementia. 

Continued research is the key

Our Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: 

“Strokes caused by a clot blocking the blood vessels in the brain are a major cause of dementia, and atrial fibrillation (AF) is an important risk factor as it increases the chances of these clots forming. By treating AF patients with blood-thinning drugs, you reduce the risk of both stroke and dementia.

“The number of people with dementia will rise substantially over the next two decades, which is why research into AF and stroke is so vital in helping to prevent the disease.”

Find out about atrial fibrillation and stroke risk