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Mental decline can follow a heart attack – Consumer Health News

FRIDAY, March 25, 2022 (HealthDay News) — As if recovering from a heart attack wasn’t hard enough, new research shows that many patients can experience severe declines in thinking.

Researchers in Poland found that within six months of a heart attack, 50% of patients experienced a decline in thinking, memory and ability to perform basic tasks.

“Assessment of cognitive status is not routine clinical practice in cardiology patients, so our knowledge is largely unknown,” explained lead researcher Dr. Dominika Kasprzak, a cardiologist at J. Strus of Poznan. “We have a lot of unanswered questions, so further study is needed to investigate these issues.”

Still, there is a high prevalence of thought dysfunction in patients after a heart attack, she said.

“These disturbances can be both temporary and permanent. There is a group of patients who will only develop deficits after longer observation. We need to be aware of these cognitive deficits and regularly monitor patients after a heart attack, but also in terms of cognitive status,” Kasprzak said.

“If we detect changes in cognitive functioning early, we are able to put in place appropriate management, and we have time to refer them to other specialists, such as psychologists or neurologists”, a- she added.

For the study, Kasprzak and his colleagues tested the thinking skills of 220 heart attack patients a few days after their heart attack and again six months later. Their average age was 60 years old.

About 50% of the patients had normal cognitive functioning on both tests, but the remaining 50% had thought disorders. About 35% to 40% of patients showed impairment within days of their heart attack, and 27% to 33% showed impairment six months later, the researchers found.

For about 50% of patients with thought disorders, their problems were temporary, but for the other half, they were permanent. About 1 in 9 patients who had normal cognitive functioning after their heart attack showed cognitive decline six months later, the researchers noted.

Cognitive deficits can affect quality of life and make it harder to follow treatments and lifestyle changes to prevent a second heart attack, Kasprzak said.

None of the patients had a history of dementia or thought disorders before their heart attack.

It’s unclear how a heart attack leads to cognitive impairment, but Kasprzak said psychological stress and sleep problems at the time of a heart attack can lead to temporary deficits. Permanent cognitive impairment, however, could indicate brain damage, but sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety could also play a role.

Age-related declines are unlikely to explain the patients’ high rate of cognitive impairment, Kasprzak said. But age can amplify the effects. In fact, older patients and those with severe cardiovascular disease were more likely to have permanent cognitive impairment, she said.

“These are just our preliminary results,” Kasprzak said. “We are conducting a continuation of this study, and we have a larger group of participants – around 400 patients – and we will try to analyze specific cognitive domains.”

Dr Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-University of California, Los Angeles, Cardiomyopathy Center, said previous studies have suggested there may be an acceleration of thought decline in people with heart disease.

“The mechanisms contributing to the identified cognitive decline require further study,” Fonarow said. He noted that previous studies have suggested that exercise can reduce overall cognitive decline.

Findings will be presented April 3 at the American College of Cardiology Annual Meeting in Washington, DC Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more on heart and brain health, check out the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Dominika Kasprzak, MD, cardiologist, J. Strus Hospital, Poznan, Poland; Gregg Fonarow, MD, director, Ahmanson-University of California, Los Angeles, Cardiomyopathy Center; presentation, April 3, 2022, American College of Cardiology Annual Meeting, Washington, DC

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