Blood thinners are a common treatment for patients suffering from conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT), atrial fibrillation (AFib), or for patients who are at an increased risk of suffering strokes from blood clots. A new study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found AFib patients taking blood thinners are at an increased risk of developing dementia.

What Is AFib?

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib as it is commonly called, is an irregular heartbeat that can cause poor blood flow. The upper chambers of the heart beat out of coordination with the lower chambers, and this can cause a heartbeat that is too slow or too fast. The poor blood flow puts patients at risk for suffering dangerous and life-threatening complications like strokes. Patients with AFib take anticoagulants or a blood thinner like Xarelto to help combat poor blood flow and protect them from suffering a stroke.

Dementia Risk

Researchers looked at more than 6,000 patients without a history of dementia. All patients were given anticoagulants to treat a variety of different medical conditions. The study discovered patients taking blood thinners for AFib were two to three times more likely to develop dementia as compared to other patients. While AFib patients were at the highest risk of developing dementia, blood thinners did increase the risk on other patients as well.

But dementia isn’t the only risk associated with blood thinners. Because blood thinners inhibit the blood’s ability clot, patients taking the medications can experience uncontrollable bleeding events. While some anticoagulants like Warfarin have antidotes to reverse their effects, one of the most popular blood thinners on the market, Xarelto, does not.

Xarelto patients suffer life-threatening and sometimes fatal bleeding events without a consistent way to reverse the drug’s effect. For patients considering taking a blood thinner, dementia must now be considered a dangerous side effect.