Alzheimer’s Drugs Linked to a Reduced Risk of Heart Attacks

The European Heart Journal, an online publication, looked at a study from Sweden involving Alzheimer’s medication and heart attacks.  The research, which had a testing base of 7,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease, showed that drugs typically administered in the early stages of Alzheimer’s reduced patient risk of heart attack and death by any means.

The study looked at cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs), including donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine, which aid in the treatment of moderate Alzheimer’s disease.  Scientists became interested in the possible effect of this drug on the heart because it is targeted at reducing the chronic inflammation seen in Alzheimer’s patients, and a side effect of ChEls is the calming of the vagus nerve, which is responsible for controlling the heartbeat.  At Umea University in Sweden, Professor Peter Nordstrom and his colleagues followed 7,073 people with Alzheimer’s disease who appeared on the Swedish Dementia Registry for an average of two years. They found that those individuals who were on ChEIs had a 36 percent reduced risk of death in general, a 38 percent reduced risk of a myocardial infarction (heart-attack), and a 26 percent reduction in the risk of any cardiovascular-related death, such as stroke, compared to those not on the ChEIs. Professor Nordstrom remarked the results if translated into absolute figures representing the data of one year for a group of 100,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s disease on ChEls; there would be 180 fewer heart attacks (295 compared to 475), and 1,125 fewer deaths overall (2000 cases versus 3,125).  It was also recorded that patients who took the highest levels possible of ChEIs while remaining safe had a 65% lower risk of heart attack and a 46 % lower risk of death than those who did not take the anti-inflammatory.  As a control, scientists tested other types of medication commonly administered to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, and the research found no change or significant results. The study holds scientific uncertainty, for while it yields promising data, the scientists cannot say that ChEls are responsible for the lowering the risks, only that is in some way related to said reduction.  However, the strong results hold promise, and Professor Nordstrom said that further experimentation and trials involving the anti-inflammatory drug could bring forth more information regarding its role in the reduction of risk of myocardial infarction and death.

1) P. Nordstrom, D. Religa, A. Wimo, B. Winblad, M. Eriksdotter. The use of cholinesterase inhibitors and the risk of myocardial infarction and death: a nationwide cohort study in subjects with Alzheimer’s disease. European Heart Journal, 2013; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/eht182

2) European Society of Cardiology (ESC) (2013, June 5). Alzheimer’s disease drugs linked to reduced risk of heart attacks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 7, 2013, from

By Lauren Horne

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