By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A procedure to restore normal heart rhythm is more effective than medications in reducing dementia risk in people with the heart rhythm disorder atrial fibrillation (AF), researchers report.
Previous studies have shown that AF is associated with an increased risk of dementia. This one assessed whether catheter ablation and medications for AF reduced that risk.
In catheter ablation, doctors insert a tube through a blood vessel to the heart to pinpoint the source of AF, and then use radiofrequency energy to inactivate or isolate the affected area.
For this study, researchers analyzed data on patients in South Korea who were diagnosed with AF between 2005 and 2015, including more than 9,100 who had catheter ablation and nearly 18,000 who were treated with medications.
During a 12-year follow-up, catheter ablation reduced the incidence of dementia by 27% compared to medication, according to findings recently published in the European Heart Journal.
"The proportion of people who developed dementia during the follow-up period was 6% in the ablation group and 9% in the medical therapy group," said study leader Dr. Boyoung Joung, a professor of cardiology and internal medicine at Yonsei University in Seoul.
"This suggests that three people per 100 of the atrial fibrillation population avoid dementia if they undergo catheter ablation, and 34 patients would need to be treated to prevent one case of dementia during the follow-up period," he added in a journal news release.
When researchers focused on specific types of dementia, they found that ablation was associated with a 23% lower incidence of Alzheimer's compared to medications and a 50% decrease in vascular dementia.
After patients who suffered a stroke during follow-up were removed from the analysis, ablation was still significantly associated with a reduced risk of overall dementia and of vascular dementia, but a statistically insignificant reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
AF -- the most common heart rhythm problem among elderly people -- increases the risk of stroke, other medical problems and death.