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SALT LAKE CITY -- For the first time, researchers believe they've found a connection between a common heart disorder and Alzheimer's disease.
Utah researchers presented their evidence Friday in Boston before thousands of doctors from all over the world. It's called the Intermountain Heart Collaborative Study, and researchers used a large sample of patients to conduct it.
"It's a huge sample," said Dr. Brian Crandall. "When you talk about studies where you look at greater than 30,000, it really increases the ability of what you can do with it."
Crandall, who is a cardiologist at Intermountain Medical Center, says blood clots, which are common in a heart disorder called atrial fibrillation, spin off to the brain, killing brain cells.
"They may be small and not that noticeable, but most of us want to keep as much brain tissue as we can because, over time, that can be one of the causes of dementia," Crandall said.
The study shows patients with atrial fibrillation are 44 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who don't have the condition.
It also shows younger patients with the heart condition may have the highest risk for dementia. Those under age 70 were 130 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's.
Cardiologist Jared Bunch was one among the team presenting the study to his colleagues in Boston. He said, "The study shows a connection between atrial fibrillation and all types of dementia. The Alzheimer's findings, particularly the risk of death for younger patients, breaks new ground."
The study begs for more research. If physicians could diagnose and begin early treatment for atrial fibrillation, might that prevent dementia or even the development of Alzheimer's?
More studies could try and sort out a more precise cause-and-effect relationship between the heart condition and the development of Alzheimer's.
Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder, especially among older adults, and Alzheimer's disease is now the leading form of dementia in this country.