Are Dementia Medications Safe for the Heart?

Alzheimers disease medications appear to be safe for the heart during short term use

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Medications for treating Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have been suspected to influence heart function. New research finds that heart function was not affected over four weeks of treatment.

Cholinesterase Inhibitors are drugs commonly used to treat AD that act on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for memory and also important for proper heart function.  

Because of the possible effects of AD medications on the heart, researchers looked at three commonly prescribed AD medications. The researchers found that the medications had no effect on heart function with short-term use.

"Tell your doctor about any side effects you experience."

Researchers led by Ahmet Turan Isik, MD, of the Bezmialem Vakif University in Istanbul, Turkey, gave patients either Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine), or Nivalin (galantamine) to 162 people newly diagnosed with AD. 

They measured heart rhythms and postural blood pressure changes at the beginning of the study and four weeks later.

Heart rhythms were measured using electrocardiogram (ECG), which measures the electrical activity of the heart through electrodes placed upon the chest. It measures the rate of heartbeats and can detect changes in the size and pumping action of chambers in the heart.

Postural blood pressure changes are measured by inducing a change in posture and measuring the change in blood pressure.  The body normally adjusts blood pressure very rapidly when a person changes from sitting to standing or from laying to sitting.

When this process is affected by medication, blood pressure can drop dramatically – known as hypotension – just after a change in posture.

The study found that patients did not show any change in blood pressure response or ECG compared to their baseline levels.

The researchers concluded that these three medications appear to be safe for the heart in patients with AD.

However, the study did not look at the long-term influences of these medication on the heart.

This study was published in June in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Information regarding funding and possible author conflicts of interest were not available.

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Review Date: 
June 21, 2012
Last Updated:
November 9, 2012