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Heart failure causes brain damage
According to a recent study, the performance of the heart has a significant impact on the brain. If the heart is weakened, the brain structure takes measurable damage. The damage is particularly large after a heart attack, but damage can also be shown to occur with simple heart failure.
A research group from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS), in collaboration with researchers from the Leipzig Heart Center, has demonstrated that the gray matter of the brain also suffers from heart failure. The results of their investigations were published in the "Circulation Research" magazine.
1.8 million people with heart failure
According to the researchers, around 1.8 million people in Germany suffer from heart failure. If the heart pumps too little blood into the body, the brain is usually not adequately supplied with oxygen. But what effects such heart failure has on the brain has so far remained unclear.
Shortness of breath and exhaustion known symptoms
The reduced physical performance in patients with heart failure has been known for a long time - rapid fatigue and shortness of breath during exercise are considered typical symptoms. However, the brain is also affected.
Relationship examined in 80 patients
The researchers examined the relationship between gray matter and cardiac function in 80 patients at the Leipzig Heart Center. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they recorded the brain structure and also identified two important indicators of heart failure: the amount of blood that is expelled during a heartbeat and the concentration of a certain hormone in the bloodstream.
Heart failure affecting the gray matter
The evaluation of the data showed a significant connection between the degree of heart failure and the changes in the gray matter, reports the research team. "The weaker the heart, the lower the density of the gray matter," says Matthias Schroeter, head of the research group for cognitive neuropsychiatry at the MPI CBS.
Which brain regions are affected?
The research team further reports that the middle forebrain and the so-called precuneus within the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus are particularly affected by heart failure. This is critical, since attention processes and memory content in particular are assigned to these brain regions. In addition, "a breakdown of gray matter in these areas can promote the development of dementia," explains Schroeter.
Far-reaching effects possible
The most well-known part of the gray matter is the cerebral cortex, which surrounds the brain as an outer, two to five millimeter thick coat with its numerous turns, the research team continues. This is where the processing of the higher mental faculties of man takes place - from the sensory impressions to language to creativity. Structural changes in this region of the brain can therefore have extremely far-reaching effects.
Counteract impairments of the brain structure
"If you have a weak heart, you must also take into account that the brain structure will be damaged," emphasizes Martin Schroeter. The best way to counteract the degradation is through sport and social activities. And of course "you have to treat the reduced heart function yourself" and address the causes such as smoking, diabetes or obesity. (fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- K. Mueller, F. Thiel, F. Beutner, A. Teren, T. Ballarini, H. E. Möller, K. Ihle, A. Villringer, M. L. Schroeter: Brain change with heart failure: Cardiac biomarker alterations and gray matter decline; in: Circulation Research (published January 23, 2020), ahajournals.org
- Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences: A weak heart also damages the brain (published February 20, 2020), cbs.mpg.de