Weight loss can reverse atrial fibrillation

| June 23, 2018

Obese people suffering from atrial fibrillation can reduce or reverse the effects of the heart condition by losing weight according to new Australian research.

Researchers from South Australia studied 355 overweight or obese people and found that a 10 per cent loss in weight along with management of associated risk factors can reverse the progression of the disease.

The research has been published in the heart journal Europace.

Atrial fibrillation (AF), Australia’s most common heart rhythm disorder, is a leading cause of stroke and can lead to heart failure. Millions of people around the world are diagnosed with this condition every year. Chest pain, a ‘racing’ or unusual heart beat and shortness of breath are all symptoms of AF.

The research was led by the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders at the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

Lead author Melissa Middeldorp, PhD researcher from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders, said progression of the disease was shown to have a direct link with the degree of weight loss.

“AF is a progressive disease in which initial short, intermittent symptoms develop into more sustained forms of the condition,” she said.

“Without weight loss, there is a progression of AF to more persistent forms of AF.

“This is the first time that evidence has been found that if people who are obese and are suffering from atrial fibrillation the disease can be alleviated by losing weight and treating lifestyle factors.”

The number of overweight and obese adults has doubled over the past two decades, with Australia now being ranked as one of the fattest developed nations.

Middeldorp said the study showed that if obese people lost more than 10 per cent of their weight they could reverse the progression of the disease.

“People who lost weight experienced fewer symptoms, required less treatment and had better outcomes. Those who previously had sustained symptoms experienced only intermittent symptoms or indeed stopped experiencing AF entirely.”

The Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders is led by Professor Prash Sanders and is a world leader in atrial fibrillation research.

“This study shows that weight loss and treating lifestyle factors is an essential component for
effectively managing AF, in many instances being an alternative to surgery or drug intervention.

“Melissa’s work has widespread implications for the management of this disease globally and is good news for people with the condition,” Professor Sanders said.

“With record levels of obesity in Australia and in most high-income countries, this study gives hope that obese people can have a better quality of life as well as reducing their dependence on health-care services if they lose weight.”