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The influence of cholinesterase inhibitor therapy for dementia on risk of cardiac pacemaker insertion: a retrospective, population-based, health administrative databases study in Ontario, Canada.


Background — Cholinesterase inhibitors are used to treat the symptoms of dementia and can theoretically cause bradycardia. Previous studies suggest that patients taking these medications have an increased risk of undergoing pacemaker insertion. Since these drugs have a marginal impact on patient outcomes, it might be preferable to change drug treatment rather than implant a pacemaker. This population-based study determined the association of people with dementia exposed to cholinesterase inhibitor medication and pacemaker insertion.

Methods — We used data from the Ontario health administrative databases from January 1, 1993 to June 30, 2012. We included all community-dwelling seniors who had a code for dementia and were exposed to cholinesterase inhibitors (donezepil, galantamine, and rivastigmine) and/or drugs used to treat co-morbidities of hypertension, diabetes, depression and hypothyroidism. We controlled for exposure to anti-arrhythmic drugs. Observation started at first exposure to any medication and continued until the earliest of pacemaker insertion, death, or end of study.

Results — 2,353,909 people were included with 96,000 (4.1%) undergoing pacemaker insertion during the observation period. Case-control analysis showed that pacemaker patients were less likely to be coded with dementia (unadjusted OR 0.42 [95%CI 0.41-0.42]) or exposed to cholinesterase inhibitors (unadjusted OR 0.39 [95%CI 0.37-0.41]). That Cohort analysis showed patients with dementia taking cholinesterase inhibitors had a decreased risk of pacemaker insertion (unadj-HR 0.58 [0.55-0.61]). Adjustment for patient age, sex, and other medications did not notably change results, as did restricting the analysis to incident users.

Conclusions — Patients taking cholinesterase inhibitors rarely undergo, and have a significantly reduced risk of, cardiac pacemaker insertion.



Huang AR, Redpath CJ, van Walraven C. BMC Neurol. 2015; 15:66.

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