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Sep 01, 2011

Fatty Acids May Help Prevent Recurrence of Atrial Fibrillation

N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish and fish oils help control AFib.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart beat, known as an arrhythmia. This condition affects more than 5 million people in the United States and can be very serious, significantly increasing risk for stroke and heart failure. Fortunately, a variety of treatments exist that minimize the effects of atrial fibrillation and prevent its recurrence. Not only do medicines help with blood clot prevention and rhythm control, there are also effective procedures used to treat the condition, such as electrical cardioversion and catheter ablation. Most often, doctors use a combination of these treatments to achieve optimal results in patients with atrial fibrillation.

And a recent study helped illuminate yet another tool that may help control atrial fibrillation and prevent its recurrence — the use of fatty acids. It has been long shown that fatty acids boast a variety of health benefits, especially for the heart. Not only have omega-3 fatty acids been shown to reduce risk for heart disease, they can also prevent arrhythmias and reduce risk for sudden cardiac death. But the role of fatty acids in the prevention of atrial fibrillation has remained unclear, until now.

In a recent study published in Circulation, researchers found that a type of omega-3 fatty acids, called N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs), can help prevent the recurrence of atrial fibrillation when used in combination with amiodarone, rennin-angiotensin-aldosterone system inhibitor and electrical cardioversion. This study included 199 patients with persistent atrial fibrillation, half of whom took n-3 PUFAs for four weeks before electrical cardioversion, while the other half took placebos (inactive pills with no medication) before this procedure. Results show that patients taking n3 PUFAs in combination with their other therapies were nearly half as likely to have recurrent atrial fibrillation as those not taking the fatty acids before electrical cardioversion.

Based on these findings, the addition of n-3 PUFAs before electrical cardioversion should be used to help prevent the recurrence of atrial fibrillation. And while further research is needed to better understand the relationship between n-3 PUFAs and atrial fibrillation, recent findings are promising and will help improve treatment and quality of life for patients.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is electrical cardioversion?
  • Direct current cardioversion, referred to as electrical cardioversion, is the use of a small electrical shock to help restore the heart’s normal rhythm. This procedure is very different from the emergency heart shocking procedure often seen on TV, as it is a lower-energy shock that is planned and given under controlled conditions.
  • In what foods are n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found?
  • N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can be found on most oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel, and in fish oils. These can be found in their natural forms, as well as in daily supplements.

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