Due to the site upgrade, your MY ACCOUNT logins will need to be updated. Please access Forgot Your Password to make this change. If you do not have an account, click here.

Weight loss may strongly benefit patients with atrial fibrillation and exercise leading to fitness is even better

Sep 09, 2015

Weight loss may strongly benefit patients with atrial fibrillation and exercise leading to fitness is even better

Doctors are finding strong connections between obesity and the extremely dangerous heart arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation. According to the American College of Cardiology, an estimated 5.6 million U.S. adults have atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid, irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart. It is a leading cause of stroke. Symptoms include weakness, shortness of breath, and palpitations. Obesity, another condition that plagues more than one-third of U.S. adults, is connected with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. But there’s good news - A new study has found that obese patients with atrial fibrillation who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight were six times more likely to achieve long-term freedom from the disorder compared to those who did not lose weight.

Rajeev Pathak, MD, a cardiologist and electrophysiology associate at the University of Adelaide in Australia and the lead study author of this study stated, “Previous studies have shown that weight management can reduce atrial fibrillation symptoms in the short term and improve outcomes of ablation (a surgical treatment for atrial fibrillation). We sought to shed light on the long-term outcomes of sustained weight loss, the effects of the amount of weight lost and the impact of changes in weight over time.”

Three hundred and fifty-five participants, all obese with atrial fibrillation at the start of the study, were enrolled in a dedicated weight loss clinic by researchers that tracked their health annually for about four years. The study found a direct relationship between weight loss and the participants symptoms - the higher the weight loss, the higher the percentage of people who became free of their symptoms. Fourty-five percent of the patients who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight were free of atrial fibrillation symptoms, without medication or surgery.  In the patients who lost from 3 to 9 percent of their body weight, 22 percent achieved freedom from the symptoms of atrial fibrillations. Only 13 percent of patients who lost less than 3 percent of their body weight were free of symptoms. Even with the use of surgery or medication, those who lost more weight were substantially more likely to achieve success and have freedom from atrial fibrillation symptoms, as well. This study is published online March 16, 2015 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Five months after the former study was published, a new study also performed at the University of Adelaide found that exercise appeared to strongly benefit the control of atrial fibrillation in obese people. Australian researchers found that “cardiorespiratory fitness” reduced the risk that this dangerous irregular heartbeat may return by as much as 84 percent. Cardiorespiratory fitness is defined as “the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the body during sustained physical activity.” Lead researcher Dr. Prashanthan Sander, director of the Center for Heart Rhythm Disorders at the University of Adelaide in Australia, explains, “This study adds to a growing body of evidence that aggressive risk factor management with increased physical activity should be an integral component of management of atrial fibrillation.”

Researchers assigned the study’s 308 patients (all obese or overweight with atrial fibrillation) to one of three groups based on their level of fitness – low, adequate or high. After four years, 84 percent of patients in the high fitness group no longer had atrial fibrillation. Seventy-six percent of patients in the adequate level of fitness group no longer had atrial fibrillation and just 17 percent of patients in the low fitness level group no longer had atrial fibrillation. As measures of fitness improved, the incidence of atrial fibrillation declined. This study is published online August 24, 2015 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.