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Discovering a link between heart disease and dementia

Did you know a common heart disorder can increase the risk of dementia by 40 per cent?

This is a frightening statistic, but one which cardiologist and researcher Dr Rajiv Mahajan at Lyell McEwin Hospital is determined to change.

Armed with funding from The Hospital Research Foundation through the success of the Home Lottery, Dr Mahajan is looking to delve deeper into the links between Atrial Fibrillation (AF) as a risk factor for dementia.

AF is a common heart rhythm problem with symptoms including an irregular heartbeat, weakness, and fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain.

“There is reason to believe that AF increases the risk of dementia as AF causes small blood clots that travel to the brain, sometimes causing silent strokes that patients are not aware of,” Dr Mahajan said.

“The aim of my research is to explore the idea whether subclinical AF is associated with the risk of dementia.”

Subclinical AF means that patients have AF but have not been clinically diagnosed with AF due to the irregular symptoms.

“People who present with obvious signs of AF are treated. However, there are some cases where AF isn’t recognised due to irregular symptoms and age,” Dr Mahajan said.

“If this study proves that AF leads to an increased risk of dementia, we may be able to impact the screening guidelines for AF so patients’ symptoms do not go unrecognised.

“It will lead to better outcomes for patients and families in reducing the risk of this terrible disease and reduce the dementia burden on society.”