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Warfarin Use in Atrial Fibrillation Patients Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia

May 06, 2016 10:25 AM EDT

A new study presented at Heart Rhythm Society's 37th Annual Scientific Sessions revealed that long-term warfarin treatment of patients suffering from atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, than non-atrial fibrillation patients that are treated with the same clot-preventing drug.

Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF, is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or in an irregular way, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AF by itself is not considered to be an immediate life-threatening condition, but it can cause blood clot. These blood clots have the possibility to break off and lodge in an artery supplying blood to the brain, resulting to stroke.

According to the report from Medical Xpress, researchers enrolled 10,537 patients who have no prior history of dementia for the study. The patients were given a long-term treatment of warfarin for atrial fibrillation and non-AF conditions like valvular heart disease and thromboembolism.

The researchers then conducted a follow up check up on the patients.

After considering other variables such as age, hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, renal failure, smoking history, prior myocardial infarction or cerebral vascular accident, and heart failure, the researchers discovered that the risk of having dementia is higher to AF-patients treated with warfarin than non-AF patients.

They also found out that patients with atrial fibrillation have a higher risk of dementia regardless of the adequacy of warfarin.

In addition, the study also revealed that poorly-controlled warfarin treatment can increase the risk of dementia for both AF and non-AF patients.

Due to their findings, researchers advised physicians to avoid putting their patients to a long-term treatment of warfarin, unless absolutely needed. They also recommend patients erratic or difficult to control levels of warfarin to consider switching to other newer agents that are easier to predict.

In the United States, CDC estimates that 2.7-6.1 million people are suffering from atrial fibrillation.

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