The Impact of Weight Loss on Atrial Fibrillation

Do you have atrial fibrillation – also known as AFib? It affects some 2.7 million Americans. You may have it and not even know it.

AFib is an irregular heartbeat, or “arrhythmia,” that occurs when the two upper chambers of the heart experience chaotic electrical signals – or get out of rhythm.

According to the American Heart Association, AFib can lead to serious heart complications, including blood clots, strokes and even heart failure. Fortunately, you can make changes to your lifestyle to reduce your risk.

In this blog we’ll explain how to tell if you might have AFib, how to avoid getting it, ways to make it better if you have it and why losing weight is so important.

Symptoms

You may not notice the symptoms of AFib. It often starts with a fluttering in the chest. Or you may feel nauseated, light-head or weak. Some people feel a sudden burst of heart pumps that leave them gasping for breath. Still others may not notice anything at all until a doctor finds AFib during a regular check-up.

Causes of AFib

No one knows the exact cause of atrial fibrillation. Yet we do know that many risk factors and other conditions likely lead to AFib: heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart valves, aging, diabetes and some genetic factors. Obesity also increases your risk for AFib.

Not all AFib needs to be treated. But if you have the risk factors we mentioned, controlling them can help reduce AFib symptoms and prevent more serious problems.

Your weight and AFib

Fat is necessary to the human body. It supplies energy and insulates organs. But excess fat tissue can cause a variety of problems for the heart and parts of the body. Being overweight can put pressure on your heart and blood vessels, which then throws off the heart’s rhythm.

Excess fat also may lead to sleep apnea, which causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. The lack of oxygen in the blood from not breathing might damage the heart and cause AFib.

Weight management can reduce your risk for AFib and, in some cases, eliminate it. A recent patient study  found that weight loss significantly reduced the condition. Overweight people who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight were six times more likely to stop having atrial fibrillation than people who didn’t lose weight.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Here’s good news: Lifestyle changes – especially weight loss – can help you overcome AFib. Here are the best ways to avoid or improve AFib:

  • Exercise more
  • Quit smoking
  • Eat heart-healthy food with less salt (to help lower blood pressure)
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit or avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants that may increase heart rate

If you’re concerned about your current lifestyle, consult with your health care provider to help you get on a healthful new track.

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough

Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough. Your health care provider may prescribe medications to prevent blood clots, control heart rate or treat contributing conditions like high blood pressure or blood cholesterol. Additional medical procedures might also be required, but again, consult with your health care team to guide you through the best treatment options.

Meet the Author

Indrajit Choudhuri, MD is a board-certified specialist in electrophysiology at Aurora Cardiovascular Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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