HEART
December 26, 2014

Health Choices a Big Factor in Overcoming A-Fib

People with atrial fibrillation have more control over their heart irregularity than they realize.

You have more power over your own health than you realize. Five years after undergoing a corrective procedure, patients who had made healthy lifestyle changes were five times as likely to be symptom-free as people who did not make these changes.

Changes included controlling weight, blood pressure, alcohol use and smoking.

Five years after their ablation treatment, 87% of the patients in the risk management group were arrhythmia-free, while only 18% of the patients receiving normal care were.

The study looked at people with atrial fibrillation, the world's most common heart rhythm disorder. A-fib is a condition in which the heart beats with an abnormal rhythm. Its cause is an electrical short circuit in a small area of heart muscle tissue.

Catheter ablation, a procedure in which the tissue in the problem area is burnt off, preventing it from mis-firing, is a common treatment.

Of 281 patients receiving this treatment in the University of Adelaide study, 149 were overweight (BMI 27 or higher). They were also offered risk factor management, an intensive program focused on making healthy lifestyle changes. A total of 61 accepted, while the other 88 only received standard care with their doctors.

The intensive program included follow-up appointments every three months at a dedicated risk factor management clinic that emphasized making lifestyle changes where they could do a patient the most good. Risk factors addressed included weight, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol, as well as sleep breathing problems, smoking and alcohol use. Patients also continued with their regular medical appointments.

Five years after their ablation treatment, 87% of the patients in the risk management group were arrhythmia-free, while only 18% of the patients receiving standard care were.

According to the study's lead author, Dr. Rajeey Pathak: “This is a very important finding because... [i]t highlights the difference between simply being reactive to the health problem, and being responsive by changing lifestyle and trying to do something about those underlying risks.”

It's one more example of how patients' actions can be just as important as medical treatment when it comes to staying healthy in the face of certain disease conditions.

“This study should serve as a wake up call to physicians to begin prevention programs to reduce disease states rather than focus on their treatment only, and the good news is: it is never too late to start,” concludes Dr. Pathak, Cardiologist and Electrophysiology Fellow, University of Adelaide, the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

The study appears in Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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