(HealthDay News) — Anticoagulants are often prescribed to prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation, but these medications may also help prevent dementia, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Heart Rhythm Society, held from May 10 to 13 in Chicago.
T. Jared Bunch, M.D., director of heart rhythm research at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah, and colleagues looked at information from 76,230 atrial fibrillation patients who had no history of dementia. The average age of the study participants was 69, and 57 percent were male. The researchers looked at when treatment began: either within 30 days of atrial fibrillation diagnosis, which was considered immediate, or after a year, which was considered delayed.
The team found that even a short delay in giving anticoagulants to patients at low risk for stroke increases the risk for dementia. In patients considered at low-risk for stroke, delaying anticoagulation treatment increased the risk for dementia 30 percent. In high-risk patients, a delay increased the risk 136 percent. The longer the delay in anticoagulation treatment, the greater the risk for dementia.
“Once you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, starting stroke-prevention strategies immediately is essential. We shouldn’t wait longer than a month to begin treatment,” Bunch told HealthDay. “The delay in treating can be devastating to patients when they start developing mental decline years later.”