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Mar 16, 2015

Weight Loss Helps Control Atrial Fibrillation

Shedding 10% of body weight promotes a regular heartbeat and minimizes symptoms in patients living with AFib.

Weight loss is a simple yet effective treatment for a common type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, according to a study presented today at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is an irregular heartbeat that drastically increases risk of stroke and other serious complications. As with most heart conditions, being overweight or obese greatly increases risk for AFib and can worsen outcomes for those who have the condition. The good news is that losing just a small amount of weight can go a long way in both promoting a normal heart rhythm and improving quality of life for the nearly two million Americans living with AFib.

Designed to assess the impact of weight loss on AFib, a study called LEGACY offered weight loss programming to overweight or obese patients treated for atrial fibrillation at a large heart center in Adelaide, Australia. A total of 355 patients participated in the study, each of whom received counseling and weight loss support in addition to standard treatment for AFib, such as blood thinners and medication that helps control heart rate.

After tracking the health and weight of participants for two years, researchers found that the more weight patients lost, the better their outcomes were. For example, patients that lost more than 10% of their body weight over the study period were six times more likely to live AFib-free compared to those patients losing less than 10% of their weight or no weight at all. Patients losing the greatest amount of weight also were less likely to experience common AFib symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath.

However, patients had to lose weight and keep it off for the greatest benefits. While losing weight helped promote a normal heart rhythm, patients whose weight fluctuated were more likely to experience an irregular heartbeat compared to those who maintained their weight loss.

Based on their findings, authors believe that weight loss and weight maintenance are important strategies for treating AFib. Not only can weight loss help treat the condition and minimize its symptoms, keeping the weight off can likely go a long way in improving both outcomes and quality of life for patients living with AFib. It’s important to note that maintaining a healthy weight can also help prevent or delay the development of AFib, which is key in addressing the obesity and AFib epidemics.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.

Featured Video

AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.


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