It is also possible that inflammation is the underlying problem in both conditions, he said, since indicators of increased inflammation, such as the molecule C-reactive protein, have been found in both cases. Treatment with statins, which have anti-inflammatory properties, or medications aimed directly at inflammation, could thus be used.
"Finally, multiple studies show the presence of sub-clinical strokes in atrial fibrillation and dementia," Bunch said. "Many small strokes over time can cause the damage."
If that theory proves out, the treatment would be aimed at preventing the blood clots that caused such small strokes, he said. The clot-preventing drug Coumadin now is often prescribed for people with atrial fibrillation, because the condition heightens the risk of clot formation. Other clot-preventing measures could also be used, Bunch said.
All of those preventive treatments would have to be started early, he said. "We're going to begin looking at 50-year-olds," Bunch said.
One question is whether truly aggressive therapy for atrial fibrillation is warranted, said Dr. John Day, director of heart rhythm services at Intermountain, and a member of the research team.
"Unfortunately, for this condition, it takes a number of years to see if it makes a difference," Day said.
One aggressive therapy is catheter ablation, in which a catheter is threaded into the heart to cauterize the area where atrial fibrillation originates, he said.
"We should have a pretty good idea over the next few years whether this works out," Day said. "We have done it with 2,000 patients, and we are following these patients."
Atrial fibrillation, its consequences and treatment, are described b
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