A team of medical researchers has found that Alzheimer’s disease may damage the heart. Although the disease is already known for damaging the brain, the same harmful proteins are also found in heart tissue. This can lead to heart failure in some Alzheimer’s patients. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Alzheimer’s is a type of age-linked dementia that results in progressively worse mental functions and memory loss. There is no cure but treatments can help manage and delay symptoms. There are over 3 million cases in the United States each year. The disease is partially caused by protein aggregates called amyloid beta. Amyloid beta protein fragments clump together and form plaques in the brain, leading to serious neuron damage.
Researchers led by a scientist from Harvard Medical School took heart tissue samples from 22 Alzheimer’s patients. The samples were compared with a healthy control group consisting of 35 individuals. The average age was 79 in the experimental group and 78 in the control group. The team looked for the presence of amyloid beta in the tissue samples.
The team found that the heart tissue samples from the Alzheimer’s patients showed elevated levels of amyloid beta. The amyloid beta deposits appeared to be thickening the left ventricle wall of the heart in these patients, a serious problem that can lead to heart failure. If the walls thicken too much, the ventricles struggle to pump blood to the heart. These issues were not present in samples from healthy seniors.
The findings suggest a link between Alzheimer’s disease and heart failure due to the presence of amyloid beta in heart tissue. The team believes that Alzheimer’s needs to be treated as a systemic disease that affects the whole body. There is currently no treatment for heart failure caused by the buildup of amyloid beta but further research could provide answers.
Troncone et al. Aβ Amyloid Pathology Affects the Hearts of Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2016).