Atrial Fibrillation, Brain Volumes, and Subclinical Cerebrovascular Disease (from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Neurocognitive Study [ARIC-NCS])

Am J Cardiol. 2020 Jan 15;125(2):222-228. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2019.10.010. Epub 2019 Oct 26.


The aim of the present study was to investigate the association between atrial fibrillation (AF) and total and regional brain volumes among participants in the community-based Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Neurocognitive study (ARIC-NCS). A total of 1,930 participants (130 with AF) with a mean age of 76.3 ± 5.2, who underwent 3T brain MRI scans in 2011 to 2013 were included. Prevalent AF was ascertained from study ECGs and hospital discharge codes. Brain volumes were measured using FreeSurfer image analysis software. Markers of subclinical cerebrovascular disease included lobar microhemorrhages, subcortical microhemorrhages, cortical infarcts, subcortical infarcts, lacunar infarcts, and volume of white matter hyperintensities. Linear regression models were used to assess the associations between AF status and brain volumes. In adjusted analyses, AF was not associated with markers of subclinical cerebrovascular disease. However, AF was associated with smaller regional brain volumes (including temporal, occipital, and parietal lobes; deep gray matter; Alzheimer disease signature region; and hippocampus [all p <0.05]) after controlling for demographics, cardiovascular risk factors, prevalent cardiovascular disease, and markers of subclinical cerebrovascular disease. Subgroup analysis revealed a significant interaction between AF and total brain volume with respect to age (p = 0.02), with associations between AF and smaller brain volumes being stronger for older individuals. In conclusion, AF was associated with smaller brain volumes, and the association was stronger among older individuals. This finding may be related to the longer exposure period of the older population to AF or the possibility that older people are more susceptible to the effects of AF on brain volume.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atherosclerosis / complications*
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnosis
  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / complications*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology