Preventing cognitive decline caused by atrial fibrillation

Foundation, in collaboration with Dr. Lena Rivard, electrophysiologist and cardiology researcher at the Institute

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This article is adapted from the Foundation’s magazine

Dr. Lena Rivard and her colleagues Dr. Denis Roy and Dr. Paul Khairy, physician researchers in cardiology and electrophysiologists at the Montreal Heart Institute, are leading BRAIN-AF, the world’s first study that seeks to demonstrate a link between atrial fibrillation and cognitive decline in young patients.

Atrial fibrillation and its impacts on the brain

Atrial fibrillation is the most common irregular heart rhythm disorder and affects about 700,000 Canadians.

Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of blood clots in the heart’s upper chamber, the atria. These blood clots can then get lodged in the brain and cause a stroke, especially in people over the age of 65 who have additional risk factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure). An anticoagulant is recommended for these patients and is efficient at preventing strokes.

The BRAIN-AF researchers believe that atrial fibrillation also increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, especially in young patients with atrial fibrillation who are not on anticoagulants.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 50 million people in the world suffer from dementia and 10 million new cases occur every year. In Canada, 402,000 people are affected by this condition.


The BRAIN-AF study

BRAIN-AF seeks to demonstrate that the use of an anticoagulant called rivaroxaban prevents the risk of brain damage (cognitive decline and stroke) in patients under the age of 65 with atrial fibrillation who are not on anticoagulants.

A study with great potential

To date, more than 800 patients have been recruited to take part in the BRAIN-AF project in 44 partner centres throughout Canada. This represents 40% of the total population required to carry out the study. Furthermore, BRAIN-AF has just been awarded a major grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) which will allow the study to recruit 1,300 additional patients and monitor them until 2024-2025.

Major benefits for patients

If the BRAIN-AF study leads to the results expected, between 50,000 and 125,000 Canadians suffering from atrial fibrillation will be able to benefit from the indication of anticoagulants to prevent cognitive decline and, ultimately, dementia.

This major study has been made possible thanks to the generous contributions of the Montreal Heart Institute Foundation’s donors. Philanthropy is key to developing cutting-edge treatments that improve the lives of patients affected by cardiovascular diseases.

Funds are currently being raised for the BRAIN-AF study and the Foundation is once more counting on the generosity of its donors to make this major project possible.

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