football helmet and stethoscope

Brain injuries, which may lead to neurodegenerative disorders, could be associated with instances of atrial fibrillation (AF).

According to a new study presented at the 2018 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, researchers from Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, led by Dr. Galenko, noticed a correlation between patients suffering from AF and brain perfusion. This is an exciting revelation for researchers, because it may now explain a correlation between patients with AFib and degenerative brain disorders. In the future, it may provide researchers with a pathway to discovering a way to prevent perfusion and reduce instances of these degenerations.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation (AF)?

Sometimes called AFib, atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that causes stroke, blood clots, and heart failure. It can also lead to other complications involving the cardiovascular system, and it is incredibly common today.

In a healthy heart, the heart would contract and relax as part of its regular heartbeat. With atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers beat in a quiver-like pattern, which does not move blood into the ventricles efficiently. This leads to clots, and if a clot were to break off, it can enter the bloodstream and cause a stroke.

While stroke is one of the more common risks of chronic AFib, there are other health conditions and complications that may occur too. Therefore, anyone who has AFib, or suspects that they might, should see a physician, immediately. With diagnosis, the condition is manageable. And under proper care might reduce the risk of stroke (and now possibly degenerative brain diseases).

Do You Have AFib? Here Are the Common Symptoms

Most people are unaware that they have AFib until it is diagnosed by a professional. The most common symptom is an irregular heartbeat because the abnormal firing of electrical impulses in the heart makes the heartbeat irregular. However, this would require the patient to either monitor their heartbeat daily or to have a physician sit and listen.

For those who have not been to the doctor for a while, other symptoms may appear, especially as the condition is allowed to continue. These common symptoms include:

  • General fatigue or tiredness
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • A fluttering sensation in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Being short of breath
  • Panic attack symptoms
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue while engaging in physical activity
  • Sweating
  • Chest pressure
  • Fainting or confusion

AFib Comes in Various Types

AFib is not a single diagnosis. Instead, you might be diagnosed with one of the five common types of AFib:

  1. Paroxysmal Fibrillation: This type of AFib means the heart returns to a normal heartbeat on its own or via medical intervention during the first few days of the condition appearing. People with this type only suffer “episodes” and might not realize there is a problem.
  2. Persistent AFib: The irregular beat lasts for over seven days and does not return to normal sinus. Instead, it requires medical treatment.
  3. Long-Standing AFib: The heart is consistently in a state of irregular rhythm, and it lasts for more than a year.
  4. Permanent AFib: The condition is indefinite, and it cannot restore a normal rhythm.
  5. Nonvalvular AFib: When atrial fibrillation does not happen from a heart valve issue.

How Is AFib Treated?

Once a patient is diagnosed, treatment depends on the type of AFib the patient has. It is essential for patients to receive treatment immediately, because there is already a high risk for stroke. And based on the information from this new study, there could be a risk for other degenerative disorders. Usually, doctors will prescribe medications that help control heart rates, such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. These help slow the heart rate and improve bodily systems – all while removing the symptoms. However, patients must also take medications to prevent strokes, especially if they have already had a stroke from AFib or at high-risk for one.

Those at risk for clots will take anticoagulant therapy medications. Also, physicians who feel a patient is at higher risk for a stroke (such as being over the age of 75 or suffering from diabetes, too) will issue blood thinners to prevent clots.

The treatment for this condition will depend on the type of AFib you have and how severe it is. For some, the condition might go months or years without proper diagnosis, prolonging necessary treatment.

AFib’s Impact on Brain Perfusion

Perfusions might lead to injuries to the brain, and they disrupt the brain’s barrier by entering numerous pathways. In the study, 246 individuals submitted plasma samples and the team looked at the levels of biomarkers commonly associated with brain injury. Their theory is that neuro-specific molecules enter the bloodstream when perfusions occur. The biomarkers common to brain injury include:

  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP)
  • S100 Calcium-Binding Protein B (S100B)
  • Stress Response Marker Growth/Differentiation Factor 15 (GDF 15)
  • Tau Protein

It was already believed that patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) would suffer cerebral injuries, but these were due to stroke from blood clots.

However, with this new data, researchers believe that identifying early risk markers of the injury can help identify which patients are at high risk and prevent further neurodegenerative problems like dementia, cognitive decline, and other brain diseases.

More on the Study

While 246 people participated in the study, 48 were non-AFib control subjects and the remainder were diagnosed with AFib. The biomarker levels and AF status were assessed, and investigators took into consideration age and gender. The biomarkers were at significantly higher levels in those with cases of AF.

While the study is still moving forward, the information provided is an exciting step for medical professionals. This can help doctors better treat patients with AFib and prevent degenerative disorders from AFib complications.

AFib Is Not the Only Culprit of Brain Disease

While the study highlights how a common condition like AFib can lead to brain disease, it is not the only condition out there known to cause degenerative disorders. Other conditions can lead to permanent brain damage, which is why it is crucial that patients are diagnosed properly. When physicians fail to conduct proper studies or use diagnostic tests to identify risk factors, they are increasing the chances their patient could suffer from irreversible brain damage.

Some common conditions that also lead to brain disease include:


Certain infections can lead to permanent or temporary brain disease. For example, an abscess caused by bacteria can infect tissues of the brain and lead to degeneration if they are not cared for quickly. Meningitis inflames the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and when caused by bacterial infections, can be fatal.

Seizure Disorders

Seizure disorders can cause permanent tissue damage to the brain, especially for those who have chronic epilepsy that is not controlled by medication. Seizure patients are at higher risk for brain trauma, and they may even suffer from strokes.

Seizures themselves, especially prolonged exposure to a seizure episode, can permanently damage the brain.

Direct Trauma

Trauma is another cause of degenerative disorders. For example, a concussion, which is an injury to the brain’s function, can lead to permanent degenerative disorders when a person does not receive proper treatment or rest. Also, repeated concussions can lead to a formation of tau proteins that eventually cause CTE – a deadly degenerative brain disease commonly found in military veterans, football players, and boxers.

Brain Diseases

Certain brain diseases, such as cancerous tumors or normal pressure hydrocephalus, can also cause degenerative disorders. A false brain tumor, which is non-cancerous, can still create excess pressure inside the skull and affect vision, create dizziness and nausea, and cause personality changes.


A stroke occurs when blood flow and oxygen are interrupted to the brain and causes portions of the brain tissue to die. Also, the area where the clot lodged and damaged the brain might cause that area to lose function – like the right side of the body no longer working.


Vasculitis can lead to dementia, too. Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels inside the brain, which leads to seizures, confusion, headaches, and eventually degeneration of the brain’s tissue.

Pick’s Disease

Pick’s Disease is a form of dementia that involves the slow destruction of the nerves at the front and sides of the brain due to abnormal protein buildups. A patient could suffer personality disorders, behavior control problems, speech issues, memory loss, and progressively worsen as the disease continues.

What If You Are Misdiagnosed and Suffer Brain Trauma as a Result?

If you or a loved one was misdiagnosed or you have a condition that caused irreversible brain damage that could have been prevented, you may have a case for malpractice against the physician. Physicians owe a duty of care to their patients, and part of this duty is ensuring timely, correct diagnosis of chronic conditions, including AFib.

While not all instances of a missed diagnosis are malpractice, if your physician fails to order proper tests, interpret those tests, or treats rather than tests, you may have a claim for malpractice. With a successful claim, you might receive compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and loss of quality of life – especially if you develop a degenerative brain disorder from chronic AFib or another medical condition.

To explore your rights and see if you have a claim, you must speak with an attorney who has experience in medical malpractice and brain injury cases.

The team at Berkowitz Hanna has been working tirelessly to help clients who suffer from all types of preventable brain disorders, including those that stem from medical malpractice and professional sports.

We feel that, when the public is more aware of the risks, the occurrence of these devastating degenerative disorders will decrease.

You can hold medical professionals responsible for altering your life and your loved one’s life for good. Brain disorders, whether stemming from a stroke or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, will change a person’s life forever. They may not remember loved ones, be able to work, and family members may have to change roles from spouse or child to caretaker – permanently changing their life, too.

To get started, contact Berkowitz Hanna today to schedule your no-obligation case evaluation. You can reach us by calling 203-487-5667 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.