Difficulties solving problems could mean increased heart attack risk

Difficulties solving problems could mean increased heart attack risk

Difficulties solving problems and carrying out simple tasks quickly could indicate an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, a study suggests.

Research on almost 4,000 men and women in their 70s found those who performed worst in problem solving tests were almost twice as likely as the best performers to have a heart attack in the next three years.

At the start of the study, participants, who had an average age of 75 carried out a series of tests to measure their “executive function” – the skills used to reason, problem solve and plan.

Tasks including reading out names of colours, in incompatible inks, and following a set of instructions to match letters to numbers.

The group were also given memory tests.

The study found the quarter of the group who fared worst in tests of executive function were 85 per cent more likely to have a heart attack and 51 per cent more likely to have a stroke, compared to those in the best performing group.

There was no link between how good a person’s memory was, and their chance of heart attack or stroke.

Researchers said the connection between brain and heart health could reflect changes in the circulation of blood, affecting both.

They said that in future, assessments of patients’ risks of heart attack and strokes should examine cognitive function.

Lead researcher Dr Behnam Sabayan, from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: "These results show that heart and brain function are more closely related than appearances would suggest.

"While these results might not have immediate clinical translation, they emphasise that assessment of cognitive function should be part of the evaluation of future cardiovascular risk."

During the course of the study, the researchers recorded 375 heart attacks and 155 strokes.

The findings are published online in the journal Neurology.

Dr Sabayan added: "Performance on tests of thinking and memory are a measure of brain health. Lower scores on thinking tests indicate worse brain functioning.

"Worse brain functioning in particular in executive function could reflect disease of the brain vascular supply, which in turn would predict, as it did, a higher likelihood of stroke.

"And, since blood vessel disease in the brain is closely related to blood vessel disease in the heart, that's why low test scores also predicted a greater risk of heart attacks. We acknowledge that even though the results were statistically significant, the risks were small."

Earlier this year the NHS launched a controversial calculator which predicts when you will have a heart attack or stroke - and compares a person’s “heart age” with their biological age.

Health experts said the online tool would give individuals “a wake-up call” - pushing those at risk of heart disease into making lifestyle changes to protect themselves from the UK’s biggest killer.

By Laura Donnelly

The Telegraph, Thursday 06 August 2015

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