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Apr 23, 2016

Yoga Improves Quality of Life in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation

Yoga should be offered as complementary therapy, argue experts.

Yoga may be the perfect addition to standard treatment for atrial fibrillation, based on a recent study linking yoga to lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved quality of life for this population.

Published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, this study investigated the potential benefits of yoga in patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, affecting an estimated 2.7 million Americans. While treatment helps minimize symptoms, Afib can worsen over time and become debilitating for some patients.

As a result, experts wonder if activities like yoga may provide added benefits for patients living with AFib. Since yoga can be very gentle, it’s generally safe for most patients and has a number of health benefits, like reducing stress and improving fitness.

To learn more, researchers randomly assigned 80 patients with AFib to standard treatment or standard treatment plus yoga. For three months, patients participating in yoga attended one group class a week and were encouraged to practice at home. The type of yoga taught, called Mediyoga, was designed specifically for people with heart conditions, focusing on meditation, deep breathing and light movements.

At the start and end of the study, patients completed medical exams and health questionnaires to assess changes in health and quality of life.

After analysis, researchers found that yoga participants had significantly lower blood pressure and heart rates than those receiving standard care. Patients practicing yoga also had significantly higher mental health scores than those receiving standard care, implying an improved quality of life.

Experts are encouraged by findings, as AFib affects millions of Americans. “Many patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation can’t live their lives as they want to,” said Maria Wahlström, lead author of the study and a nurse and PhD candidate at Sophiahemmet University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. “They refuse dinners with friends, concerts, and travelling because they are afraid of an AFib episode occurring,” explains Wahlström.

“Yoga may improve quality of life in patients with paroxysmal AFib because it gives them a method to gain some self-control over their symptoms instead of feeling helpless,” she says. As such, authors encourage yoga as a complementary therapy for patients with AFib. Not only may light activities like yoga improve quality of life, it has the potential to reduce hospitals visit and improve outcomes.

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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