Atrial fibrillation and cognitive impairment: a narrative review
Introduction. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common arrhythmia in clinical practice and its incidence and prevalence increase with age, as does cognitive impairment (CI).
Development. Prospective observational studies have shown that AF can significantly increase the risk of stroke, which is an important cause of CI, but it has also been established that the association between the two diseases may be independent of stroke and other shared risk factors. However, the pathophysiological mechanism linking the two entities is still unclear as it is likely to be a multifactorial process (cardioembolic silent strokes, proinflammatory states and cerebral hypoperfusion), with preliminary evidence of a link between atrial cardiomyopathy without AF and cognitive dysfunction. The association between AF and CI raises the possibility that therapeutic interventions aimed at managing this arrhythmia may prevent or delay the onset of CI. Anticoagulation has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of stroke in patients with AF and, with it, the risk of CI, but the effect of other therapeutic interventions such as rhythm and rate control is inconclusive.
Conclusions. AF and CI are an important health problem worldwide and the demographic trend predicts exponential growth of both conditions in the coming years. Therefore, it seems necessary to increase our knowledge of the pathophysiological mechanisms related to them in order to establish effective preventive strategies.
Key words. Alzheimer’s disease. Anticoagulation. Atrial fibrillation. Cognitive impairment. Dementia. Stroke.