Atrial fibrillation as a risk factor for cognitive impairment: a semi-systematic review

S Udompanich, G Y H Lip, S Apostolakis, D A Lane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


It is unclear if atrial fibrillation (AF) is an independent risk factor for cognitive impairment. This review evaluates the available evidence and provides an overview of the association between AF and cognitive function. Electronic database searches, January 1990 to December 2012, identified 271 studies comparing the incidence of cognitive impairment and/or dementia in patients with/without AF. Cognitive function was diagnosed by a physician using the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) or other established diagnostic criteria. Studies with <20 participants and without direct comparison to controls in sinus rhythm were excluded. There were no restrictions on the basis of age, language or study design. Full texts of 11 studies were obtained. Eight studies (three cross-sectional, two case-control and three prospective cohorts) reported an association between cognitive decline and AF. Among cross-sectional studies, patients with AF had a 1.7 (95% CI 1.2-2.5) to 3.3 (95% CI 1.6-6.5) greater risk of cognitive impairment, and a 2.3-fold (95% CI 1.4-3.7) increased risk of dementia, compared to patients in sinus rhythm. There was marked heterogeneity in the design, size and quality of studies and reporting of the data which precluded formal meta-analysis. Eight studies reported an association between AF and cognitive impairment and/or dementia, but the magnitude of risk varied. Further large-scale prospective studies are needed to establish whether AF is a risk factor for cognitive decline, utilizing objective measures of cognitive function and neuropsychological testing, and to investigate the potential benefit of anticoagulation on reducing cognitive impairment and development of dementia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-802
Number of pages8
JournalQJM: An International Journal of Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Dementia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke


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