Heart failure linked to brain tissue loss

By: Hope Holborow
09 February, 2012

Heart failure is linked to a loss of cerebral grey matter and impaired cognitive function—a link exposed by researchers at UWA and the Western Australian Institute for Health and Ageing.

The paper, published in the European Heart Journal, reveals that people with heart failure (HF) and ischaemic heart disease (IHD) may suffer impaired memory, reasoning and planning, with the possible medical implication of suffering difficulty in following self-care advice.

The cross-sectional study of 155 adults—consisting of 64 controls, 35 with heart failure and 56 with ischaemic heart disease—was used to determine whether compared with ‘controls’ with and without IHD, adults with systolic HF show evidence of cognitive impairment and cerebral grey matter (GM) loss.

Lead author of the paper, Chair of Geriatric Psychiatry at UWA and Director of Research at the WA Centre for Health and Ageing, Professor Osvaldo Almeida says Medical resonance imaging (MRI) allowed the examination of the impact of both heart failure and ischaemic heart disease on cerebral grey matter.

MRI was used to assess differences in the volume of GM in different parts of the brain.

"It showed that people with heart failure display more widespread and extensive brain changes than adults with ischaemic heart disease," Prof Almeida says.

Adults with HF were found to have worse immediate and long-term memory and psychomotor speed than controls without IHD.

The research paper acknowledges the observation that people with HF "have trouble adhering to complex self-care advice", and suggests the possible requirement of simpler approaches to self-management.

"It could be possible that patients with heart failure have trouble following complex management strategies, and therefore, treatment messages should be simple and clear," Prof Almeida says.

Prof Almeida also says the findings show that HF could also affect emotions and mental activity.

"Health professionals and patients need to be aware that problems caused by heart disease are not limited to the heart," he says.

The paper states that depression and cognitive impairment are the most frequent mental health problems among people with HF.

Although the study was not large enough to show "with certainty" that the cognitive performance of participants with HF was worse than that of participants with IHD, Prof Almeida says both showed a deficit when compared with controls.

He hopes future studies will clarify whether the observed changes are of a progressive nature and how they can be appropriately managed.

Source: ScienceNetwork WA