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Published On: Mon, Apr 23rd, 2018

Obesity Linked to Irregular Heartbeat, Study Finds

People who are obese are 40% more likely to have atrial fibrillation, or rapid and irregular heartbeat, than people with a normal body weight, a new study has found.

Atrial fibrillation can cause heart failure, stroke and other complications.

photo Parenting Patch via wikimedia commons

The study, which was conducted by Penn State and published in the American Journal of Cardiology, followed two large groups of participants that were equally divided between people with and without obesity. Participants, 67,287 in total, were followed for eight years.

The average age of participants was 43.8, and 77% were women.

The results of the study found that obese people had a 40% greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation than people who were at a normal body weight.

The study indicates that weight loss is a possible way to treat and manage the condition in obese people.

Researchers found that 1.8% of non-obese patients were at risk of atrial fibrillation, but that percentage rose to 2.7% when patients were obese.

The results also showed that obese people were 45% more likely to develop hypertension and 51% more likely to develop diabetes.

Researchers speculate that obesity may cause atrial fibrillation due to the increased stress and strain put on the heart.

“When the heart is strained, it can lead to changes in the atrium — the top chambers of the heart — and it’s here where we believe structural abnormalities can precipitate atrial fibrillation,” said Researcher Andrew Foy. “Patients with obesity tend to have more fibrosis, higher pressures and more fatty infiltration in the top chamber of their hearts, so atrial fibrillation could be related to these types of changes.”

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s electrical currents go haywire, causing the top chambers of the heart to flutter or quiver. Patients with this condition are at a greater risk of developing heart complications. It also puts a strain on the healthcare system, as patients require more procedures, medications and in some cases, hospitalization just to manage the condition.

Dr. Gerald Naccarelli, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Cardiology, said doctors should “counsel their obese patients to look for symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.” Patients exhibiting these symptoms, he says, should be encouraged to lose weight.

Naccarelli also says that doctors need to look for other risk factors that are common in obese patients, such as hypertension, diabetes and coronary artery disease.

Foy says the study highlights the need to treat obesity, a growing problem around the world. While there are interventions for hypertension, he says, there are limited options when it comes to obesity.

Exercise and diet changes are encouraged, but patients are often left to make these changes on their own without guidance. New solutions are emerging, such as diet food delivery plans and personal training sessions, but these must be sought outside of the healthcare industry.

“We know that obesity is a problem, but we need to be as serious about the management, prevention and treatment of the obesity crisis as we are about conditions like hypertension and diabetes,” said Foy.

Author: Jacob Maslow

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