February is American Heart Month to raise awareness of heart disease which is the number one leading cause of death in the United States. In our blog post of February 7, 2019, we wrote about a heart disorder atrial fibrillation that actually is dangerous for the brain, as it is one of the leading causes for strokes. We also wrote that it could probably be reversed by losing weight. Now a new study published February 14, 2019 in the journal HeartRhythm by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco shows that the lifestyle choices that set off atrial fibrillation events can be changed.
Health eHeart Study
Researchers examined 1295 patients from the Health eHeart Study and StopAfib.org questioning them about any atrial fibrillation event that was triggered by one of 11 potential triggers. About 74% of them reported AF triggers. The most common triggers were:
- Alcohol 35%
- Caffeine 28%
- Strenuous exercise 23%
- Lack of sleep 21%
Women, younger patients, Hispanics, people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea and those with a family history of atrial fibrillation reported experiencing irregular heartbeats after the triggers. Also, many reported that at least two different triggers set off an atrial fibrillation event.
Senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, a UCSF Health cardiologist and associate chief of cardiology for research in the UCSF Division of Cardiology says that further research is needed on a broad range of people with atrial fibrillation to also find connections to genetic differences. To this end a new app-based study is going to be launched this year and anyone can join it whether or not they have heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2.7–6.1 million people in the United States have atrial fibrillation. Seniors age 65 and over make up 9% of Americans who have atrial fibrillation. Many people, however, do not know they have it and tragically only learn about it after they have a stroke.
Atrial fibrillation is a problem when the electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart begin acting chaotically, which causes the atrial walls to quiver instead of contracting normally to move blood to the lower chambers of the heart. This scenario can lead to blood clots forming and a clot can make its way from the heart to the brain and cause an ischemic stroke. The problem is that there are no obvious symptoms and this condition can remain hidden until a stroke occurs. When atrial fibrillation is detected, then anticoagulant treatment can help to prevent the formation of blood clots that can make their way from the heart to the brain and cause an ischemic stroke.
Risk Factors for Atrial Fibrillation
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) list several risks for developing atrial fibrillation:
Aging is a major risk factor for seniors over the age of 65. Atrial fibrillation can occur at any age even in children, but it is usually linked to obesity.
Obesity is a major risk factor and losing weight has been shown to be able to reverse atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation tends to run in families so there may be genes that increase the risk for it.
Poor lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol even in moderate amounts, smoking and partaking in illegal drugs like cocaine have all been shown to raise the risk for developing atrial fibrillation.
While moderate physical exercise and activity has been shown to be beneficial, extreme over exertion and participation in endurance sports has been shown to raise the risk in some people.
Stress has also been associated with a higher risk for atrial fibrillation.
Some kinds of surgery such as operations on the heart, lungs and esophagus have been linked with a risk to get atrial fibrillation.
Medical Conditions that can Lead to Atrial Fibrillation
The NFLBI Lists Medical Conditions that raise the risk of atrial fibrillation such as:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Conduction disorders
- Congenital heart defect
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Heart inflammation
- Heart tissue that is too thick or stiff
- Heart valve disease
- High blood pressure
- Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid gland
- Ischemic heart disease
- Lung diseases, including COPD
- Sleep apnea
- Venous thromboembolism
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The results of this study show that if one stops drinking alcoholic beverages and coffee, gets a good night’s sleep and does not over exert themselves in physical exercise and keeps to a normal weight, then they may have a good chance to stop atrial fibrillation that can lead to a stroke.