Helping the brain by treating the heart

Researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute are currently leading the world’s first study that aims to demonstrate the use of an anticoagulant could prevent cognitive decline in young patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disorder.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation affects approximately 700,000 Canadians, including nearly 175,000 who are 65 or younger.

This cardiovascular disease affects the two upper chambers of the heart called the atria. The atria are the receiving cavities. Thanks to electrical signals, they ensure blood flows efficiently towards the ventricles and the rest of the body.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when these electrical signals are quick, irregular, and disorganized which reduces the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood.


Factors of risk

  • Aging (it affects 5% of people aged 75-80)
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Coronary heart disease or an abnormality of the heart muscle or valve
  • Sleep apnea
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption


Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Patients experience atrial fibrillation in different ways. It can cause chest pains or more often heart palpitations. The symptoms of atrial fibrillation may also include shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, or an inability to carry out day-to-day activities. In about 30% of cases, atrial fibrillation is asymptomatic.

Effects of atrial fibrillation

When left untreated, atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots in the atria. This increases a person’s risk of strokes and according to researchers at the MHI, could also result in memory loss and dementia.

Thankfully, most patients treated for atrial fibrillation enjoy a high quality of life.

find out more about atrial fibrillation


The BRAIN-AF study

BRAIN-AF (Blinded Randomized Trial of Anticoagulation to Prevent Ischemic Stroke and Neurocognitive Impairment in Atrial Fibrillation) is a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study currently being carried out in 44 centres in Canada. It aims to better understand the effects of cardiovascular disease on cognitive decline and the ways of preventing this.

Researchers want to prove the efficiency of an anticoagulant called rivaroxaban to treat young patients with atrial fibrillation. By using this drug to treat atrial fibrillation, they hope to develop a new approach to preventing cognitive impairment and dementia.


Criteria to take part in the study

  • Be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation
  • Be between 30 and 62 years of age
  • Not having suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, or heart failure


Want to take part in the study?

Contact us by emailing

find out more about the study


The BRAIN-AF study was initiated by Dr. Lena Rivard and her colleagues, Dr. Paul Khairy and Dr. Denis Roy.


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Thank you to the study’s generous donors

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Canadian Stroke Prevention Intervention Network
  • Bayer Global
  • Godin Family Foundation
  • Saputo inc.
  • iA Financial Group
  • Foundation of Greater Montréal, Paul-A. Fournier Foundation Fund
  • SoundBite Medical Solutions
  • Libermont Foundation
  • Bryan Jones
  • The Jean C. Monty family
  • Louis A Tanguay
  • Serge Archambault
  • Montreal Heart Institute Foundation