SUNDAY, Nov. 17, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight or obese
people can cut their risk of trouble with a potentially fatal
irregular heart beat if they lose a lot of weight, a new study has
Losing a bit more than 30 pounds, on average, caused people to
have fewer and less severe bouts of heart palpitations related to
The findings were presented Sunday at the American Heart
Association annual meeting in Dallas, and published simultaneously
Journal of the American Medical Association.
Atrial fibrillation is a disorder of the electrical impulses
that coordinate the beating of the heart. Rapid and disorganized
electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers -- the
atria -- to contract in a fast and irregular way. The condition can
increase a person's risk of stroke and contribute to heart
The new study found that people on a strict weight-management
plan experienced a five-fold decrease in the severity of their
atrial fibrillation symptoms, compared with those who only received
nutrition and fitness advice.
The dieters also had a 4.5-times better overall decrease in
symptoms and a two-and-a-half-times greater decline in episodes of
atrial fibrillation, the study authors said. Symptoms can include
heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue,
fainting and chest pain.
"Weight loss will help most people who are overweight" with their atrial fibrillation, said study co-author Dr. Prashanthan Sanders, director of the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders at the University of Adelaide in Australia. "Extra weight, through so many ways, has a significant impact on the atria [upper chambers of the heart]."
For example, obesity increases inflammation and can contribute
to the thickening of the heart's wall, the study authors said.
The study authors called atrial fibrillation "the epidemic of
the new millennium," projecting that by 2050 between 12 million and
15 million Americans will be affected by the heart disorder. The
reason: the growing obesity epidemic.
The 19-month study involved 150 people with a body-mass index
(BMI) greater than 27. In general, a person with a BMI -- a ratio
of weight to height -- greater than 25 is considered overweight.
Someone with a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese, according
to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obesity is thought to be a major contributor to atrial
fibrillation, Sanders said. "Several epidemiological studies have
suggested this," he said. "There are several reasons why -- sleep
apnea, hypertension [high blood pressure] and metabolic
According to background information provided in the study,
people experience a 4 percent to 5 percent increased risk of atrial
fibrillation every time their BMI increases by 1 point.
For the new study, half of the participants underwent a
weight-management plan that for the first eight weeks required a
very low-calorie diet of between 800 and 1,200 calories per day.
They received a weight-loss shake for two of their daily meals, and
a third meal with high levels of proteins.
These people also had to follow a written exercise plan that
prescribed low-intensity exercise like walking or cycling three
times a week, starting at 20 minutes per session and gradually
increasing to up to 45 minutes.
The other study participants were just provided advice on
nutrition and exercise.
The people in the weight management plan ended up losing 33
pounds on average, compared with an average 12.5 pounds lost by the
advice group. Along with the weight, both groups also shed symptoms
of atrial fibrillation. But the weight-management group experienced
significantly greater reductions in problems with atrial
American Heart Association Past President Dr. Gordon Tomaselli
said it makes sense that losing weight would help people who are
experiencing an irregular heart beat.
"Anything that increases cardiac demand can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation," he said.
Tomaselli, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine, added that a person doesn't have to go to the
extremes undertaken by the weight-management group to get some
"Time and time again, any weight loss has been shown to help people," he said. "Exercise is good for you. If you exercise more tomorrow than you did today, you're doing the right thing."
For more on atrial fibrillation, visit the
U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood
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