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Obesity may trigger heart rhythm disturbance, atrial fibrillation

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Atrial fibrillation

Researcher suggests there is a direct link between obesity and the common heart rhythm disturbance atrial fibrillation in a first study. The finding comes from University of Adelaide scientists who found obesity triggers electrical abnormalities in the heart.

Cardiologist and PhD candidate Dr Hany Abed, University of Adelaide, explains excess weight changes the structure and size of the heart muscle, which causes strain. Obesity also alters the electrical function of the heart, leading to atrial fibrillation.

Obesity strains the heart,; disturbs electrical signals

“We already know that obesity causes an increase in blood pressure and puts strain on the heart. Current basic laboratory research using a sheep model also shows that obesity causes electrical abnormalities in the heart chamber,” Dr Abed says.

Abed is trying to find out if weight loss could reduce the chances of developing the cardiac arrhythmia, which affects 10 percent of people over age 75, according to background information from the study.

Rates of obesity, atrial fibrillation expected to rise in next decade

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Abed says the incidence of atrial fibrillation linked to obesity is expected to rise. By 2020 two thirds of atrial fibrillation diagnoses will be the result of obesity.

“The costs to the health system and the community are enormous. However, early results in our research show that atrial fibrillation can be reversed if people lose weight”, Abed says.

He adds, atrial fibrillation hospital admissions now surpass hospitalization for congestive heart failure. "Unless we tackle the obesity problem it will be like trying to rescue the deck chairs from the Titanic."

The finding shows obesity affects electrical activity of the heart and may be a risk for atrial fibrillation. The heart rhythm disturbance can lead to stroke, the need for long-term medication use and frequent hospitalizations, and is also linked to higher rates of dementia, as is obesity, shown in a May, 2010 study, published in the Annals of Neurology.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons
This page is updated on May 9, 2013.