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Aug 23, 2017

Patients with AFib Can Prevent Heart Failure with a Few Key Choices

Preventing four modifiable risk factors helps patients with atrial fibrillation reduce risk for heart failure.

Individuals with an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation can help prevent heart failure with a few simple steps, based on a recent study published in JACC: Heart Failure.

Heart failure, which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body, is one of the most common complications associated with atrial fibrillation. Once patients with atrial fibrillation develop heart failure, their risk of death significantly increases.

For this reason, researchers explored how cardiovascular risk factors we can control such as high blood pressure and smoking impact risk for heart failure. The goal was to see whether a healthy lifestyle helps patients with atrial fibrillation significantly reduce their risk for developing heart failure.

The study included nearly 35,000 participants in the Women’s Health Study, which has tracked the health of U.S. female health professionals since 1993. Participants were 45 years or older and free of heart disease at the start of the study.

During a 20-year follow-up period, a total of 1,495 women developed atrial fibrillation. As previous research has shown, women with atrial fibrillation had a nine-fold increase in risk for heart failure. Once they developed heart failure, their risk for heart-related death nearly tripled.

The good news, however, is that women with a healthy lifestyle had significantly lower risk for heart failure than those with poorer markers of health. When looking at four key risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and diabetes, these risk factors accounted for 62% of the risk for heart failure. Researchers also found that women with two risk factors had 40% lower risk for heart failure than those with 3–4 risk factors. Even more striking, women with none of these risk factors had 86% lower risk for heart failure than women with 3–4 risk factors.

According to authors, findings highlight the need for patients with atrial fibrillation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In this study, the majority of heart failure cases were caused by four key risk factors: high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and diabetes. All four of these risk factors can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and are largely in our control. Thus, addressing any of these risk factors is especially critical for patients with atrial fibrillation, who already face increased risk for heart failure.

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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Infographic: Heart Failure