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Dec 18, 2015

A Healthy Lifestyle is Key to Prevention and Management of AFib

Simple lifestyle choices can go a long way toward feeling your best with atrial fibrillation.

When it comes to atrial fibrillation (AFib), medications are often viewed as the most helpful treatment for patients. Medications can help promote a normal heart rhythm and reduce the risk for complications like stroke. However, research continues to show that simple lifestyle choices may be just as important to both the prevention and management of AFib.

In a paper published recently in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, experts recently highlighted the many ways patients can both prevent and manage AFib based on the latest evidence. First, research continues to stress the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity and overweight increase the risk for developing AFib and can worsen outcomes for patients already affected by this condition. In fact, one study found that overweight and obesity are to blame for 17% of AFib cases in the United States.

The good news, however, is that physical activity and a healthy diet can improve outcomes. When patients are overweight or obese, exercise can help reduce risk for complications. Exercise and a healthy diet also help promote a healthy weight and reduce risk for AFib. Among patients with atrial fibrillation, staying active and eating healthy improves both outcomes and quality of life.

In addition to healthy lifestyle choices, authors also stress the importance of addressing any existing cardiovascular risk factors. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can both increase risk for atrial fibrillation and increase risk for complications in patients with AFib. Diabetes is also a well-known risk factor for atrial fibrillation and can worsen outcomes.

However, addressing these conditions can help significantly reduce risk for AFib and complications. For example, stroke is one of the biggest complications associated with atrial fibrillation. A recent study found that blood pressure medication helps cut stroke risk in half for AFib patients with hypertension.

In addition to traditional risk factors, the authors mention a few additional factors related to AFib. Obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that occurs when breathing repeatedly starts and stops during sleep. Sleep apnea has been linked to increased risk for atrial fibrillation and can worsen outcomes for patients with AFib. However, treatment for sleep apnea can improve survival rates and prevent abnormal heart rhythms. The authors also point out that tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption may be linked to atrial fibrillation, although further research is needed on these topics.

Although medication remains important for the treatment of atrial fibrillation, the authors hope these recommendations help educate patients and providers about the importance of lifestyle choices. Although we can’t control things like family history, there are many cardiovascular risk factors we can control, such as weight, blood pressure and diabetes. Addressing risk factors and making healthy lifestyle choices can not only help prevent AFib but improve outcomes and quality of life for patients already living with this condition.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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.

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