A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Coronary heart disease and mental decline: What you should know

A close-up image of a man looking off screen.

Heart disease is associated with cognitive decline over the long term.

A recent study published in the American College of Cardiology found that people who are diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD) experience a cognitive decline after their diagnosis compared to people who do not have CHD. This cognitive decline was not observable “in the years before nor in the short-term after CHD diagnosis.”

The heart-brain connection

While this finding is newer to the medical community, the general link between the heart and brain is not.

“Generally, if somebody has really bad heart-related atherosclerosis (narrowed arteries), they may have the same thing going on in the brain,” said Dr. Boban Mathew, an interventional cardiologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Prevention is the best approach

The study from the American College of Cardiology said prevention is the best way to avoid CHD and any related impact on the brain.

“The best strategy for preventing cognitive decline in patients post-CHD remains uncertain, and the reasons why CHD is associated with long-term but not short-term cognitive decline are also not fully clear,” Mathew said. “However, aggressively preventing CHD may have a beneficial effect on cognitive decline in the future.”

Mathew said a number of other studies have shown a relation between vascular disease and higher rates of dementia. Stroke also is a risk for people with vascular disease or heart disease.

So while the study does not answer all our questions about the relation between heart health and brain health, it does reinforce a long-held truth in medicine – prevention is the best medicine. Things like regular exercise, healthy diet and making sure your blood pressure and cholesterol remain in a healthy range can keep your heart, and your mind, healthy.

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