MONDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer a stroke and also have an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation may be at greater risk of developing dementia than stroke survivors without the heart condition, British researchers report.
The likelihood of atrial fibrillation increases with age, and it is a significant risk factor for stroke. More than 2 million Americans have the condition, according to the study, published in the March 8 issue of Neurology.
"We know that atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia in older patients, but it has been unclear whether the arrhythmia is a major risk factor for dementia," said researcher Dr. Yoon K. Loke, a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K.
"In the stroke population, atrial fibrillation appears to have a major role in contributing to dementia, and clinicians should concentrate their efforts on tackling this, in addition to any associated cardiovascular risk factors," he added.
For the study, Loke and colleagues gathered data on 46,637 people, average age 72, who took part in 15 separate studies.
This is a method known as a meta-analysis in which researchers pull out certain data from studies not necessarily designed to evaluate the specific outcomes these researchers are interested in. The goal is to identify any significant trends.
In this case, the pooled data showed that people who survive a stroke and who also have atrial fibrillation are 2.4 times more likely to develop dementia, compared with stroke survivors without this irregular heart beat.
In all, about 25 percent of patients with stroke and atrial fibrillation developed dementia during follow-up, the researchers noted.
Strategies are needed to reduce this excess dementia risk in stroke patients, Loke said. "This may include steps such as better control of t
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