Published: Friday 1 July 2016
AF (atrial fibrillation) is a type of irregular heartbeat. Over one million people in the UK are living with the condition, and it is more common as we get older. AF means your heart is not working as well as it could and it may increase your risk of stroke by up to five times. Anti-coagulant medication, like warfarin, acts to prevent blood clots forming in the body, and are the main treatment used to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with AF.
Published in the journal Age and Ageing, a new study reviewed all the known studies linking anti-coagulant treatment of AF with effects on the 'cognition' of patients (meaning the ability to think and remember).
The study suggests that treating AF with anti-coagulant medication causes no harm to the cognition of patients who receive them.
It also provides limited evidence to suggest that taking anti-coagulant medication might benefit the cognition of AF patients, when compared to treatment with anti-platelet medication like aspirin: in some of the studies reviewed, patients on anti-coagulants performed better on tests of memory than those on anti-platelet medication, although the difference between groups was very small.
The way anti-coagulant medication might be able to help cognition could be by preventing tiny strokes in the brain which over time cause decline of cognitive abilities, and can develop into dementia. Stroke is thought to double the risk of developing dementia – with up to 30% of all stroke survivors going on to develop a type of dementia called vascular dementia.
This study is important as it suggests that more definitive trials should be conducted to shed further light on whether anti-coagulant medication affects the cognition of patients who are treated with them.
This research was supported by a British Geriatric Society summer research scholarship awarded to Peter Moffitt, University of Glasgow. Peter Moffitt was supervised by Dr Terry Quinn, University of Glasgow, who is supported by a joint Stroke Association/Chief Scientist Office senior clinical lectureship award.