Researchers following 7,073 patients with Alzheimer’s disease found that treatment with cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs) was associated with a 38% reduced risk of heart attack and a 26% reduced risk of death from cardiac events.
This effect of ChEIs may be linked to their stimulation of the vagus nerve and anti-inflammatory properties, which are benign side-effects.
ChEIs, including donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine, are standard treatment for the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The reduction in risk of heart attack was greater for those patients on higher doses of ChEIs.
Memantine, which belongs to another class of dementia drugs, was not found to be linked to any change in heart attack risk.
Lead researcher Professor Peter Nordström of Umeå University, Sweden, said: “If you translate these reductions in risk into absolute figures, it means that for every 100,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease, there would be 180 fewer heart attacks – 295 as opposed to 475 – every year among those taking ChEIs.”
He added: “As this is an observational study, we cannot say that ChEI use is causing the reduction in risk. However, the strengths of the associations make them very interesting from the clinical point of view, although no clinical recommendations should be made on the basis of the results from our study.
“It would be of great value if a meta-analysis of previous randomised controlled trials could be performed, as this might produce answers on which clinical recommendations could be based.”