Healthy Heart, Healthy Mind

Heart failure linked to deficits in cognitive function and grey matter decline

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) If you’ve suffered from recent heart failure you may be starting to notice your thoughts are a bit more clouded than they were before, and a new study sheds insight as to what’s going on.

When doctors started noticing that patients recently suffering from cardiac arrest couldn’t remember to take their medicine, they looked inside their brains and discovered deficits in grey matter, a major component in the central nervous system.

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“Our results are consistent with the observation that people with heart failure have trouble adhering to complex self-care advice, and suggest that simpler approaches to self-management may be required,” explains Osvaldo Almeida, Ph.D., Director of Research at the Western Australia Institute for Health and Aging.

Dr. Almeida studied the brains and mental function of 35 patients with heart failure, 56 patients with ischaemic heart disease, and 64 healthy controls. While ischaemic heart disease does not always accompany heart failure, it often can, and hence researchers included these patients to understand the depth of the cognitive connection.

Psychiatric assessments of the patients unveiled that those with heart failure (HF) suffered deficits in their short- and long-term memory as well as their reaction speeds as compared to the healthy controls.

Further MRI scans of HF participants illustrated alterations in brain regions associated with mental and emotional processing.

Those with ischemic heart disease, IHD, did not come out cognitively unscathed. They suffered cell loss alongside heart failure victims “in certain brain regions that are important for the modulation of emotions and mental activity," notes Almeida. 

“Such a loss is more pronounced in people with heart failure, but can also be seen in people with ischemic heart disease without heart failure." 

Dr. Almeida explains that people with both HF and IHD show visible signs of cognitive decline as compared to healthy controls and that their study was not large enough to be certain that heart failure produces worse results in the bigger picture.

The results do indicate that “diseases that affect the heart affect the brain as well,” providing additional incentive to promote a healthy heart.   

A grant from the Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council funded the study, which is published through European Heart Journal. The author’s reported no conflicts of interest during their investigations.


Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 31, 2012
Last Updated:
February 1, 2012