Blood-thinning drugs 'reduce dementia risk'
25th October 2017 – People who take blood-thinning drugs for an irregular heartbeat have up to a 48% lower risk of developing dementia than those who don't, new research suggests.
The drugs, known as anticoagulants, are taken to prevent blood clots. They are recommended for people at high risk of blood clots to help prevent them developing serious conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.
They are often given to people with an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate, known as atrial fibrillation, because this condition can allow blood clots to form.
Large Swedish study
The latest study, published in the European Heart Journal, was based on 444,106 dementia-free people in Sweden with atrial fibrillation between 2006 and 2014.
During the 8-year period, 26,210 of those in the study were diagnosed with dementia.
It found that those taking blood-thinning drugs, including warfarin and newer types of anticoagulants, had a 29% lower risk of dementia than those who were not taking them.
When the researchers monitored the effects over a period of time, they found that patients who continued to take the drugs had a 48% reduction in the risk of dementia.
Researchers say the findings confirm what was already suspected: if blood-thinning medication can prevent the blood clots that cause major strokes, they might also protect against the clots that can cause tiny strokes that gradually lead to dementia.
The researchers found that the strongest predictors for dementia were not taking blood-thinning drugs, ageing, having Parkinson's disease, and alcohol abuse.
They also found that the sooner people were put on anticoagulants after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the more likely they were to be protected against dementia.
Increasing cases of dementia
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, says in a statement: "Strokes caused by a clot blocking the blood vessels in the brain are a major cause of dementia, and atrial fibrillation (AF) is an important risk factor as it increases the chances of these clots forming. By treating AF patients with blood-thinning drugs, you reduce the risk of both stroke and dementia.
"The number of people with dementia will rise substantially over the next 2 decades, which is why research into AF and stroke is so vital in helping to prevent the disease."
'Good for head and heart'
James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society says: "We know that what is good for your heart is good for your head. Because of this, many research studies are examining the benefits of treating problems with the blood and heart as a way to potentially prevent or slow down cognitive decline, including some funded by Alzheimer's Society.
"This large study suggests that anticoagulant drugs could reduce dementia risk in people with atrial fibrillation, but it cannot prove cause and effect. For instance, people that seek treatment for medical conditions may be generally healthier than those that don't, or other reasons might be at play.
"If you have atrial fibrillation, make sure you have regular conversations with your doctor about the best treatment options for you. Taking good care of your heart in general is thought to be one of the best things to do to do reduce your risk of dementia. You can do this by keeping blood pressure in check, eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular physical exercise."