The first study of its kind was presented at Heart Rhythm 2014, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 35th Annual Scientific Sessions. The study was conducted by the Mayo Clinic. This new research found that bariatric surgery is an effective way to control weight in the morbidly obese that are at a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation. This type of surgery limits food intake and is recommended for those who are unable to lose weight on their own. The study’s author, Dr. Yong Mei Cha, and colleagues presented its results at the organization’s annual conference in San Francisco, California. These results are considered preliminary until published in a medical journal.
More than two-thirds of the U.S. adult population is considered overweight or obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Obesity is a known risk factor for arrhythmias. Some risk factors for this condition include high blood pressure and cholesterol, both associated with obesity. Atrial Fibrillation (AF or Afib) is the most common arrhythmia problems and affects nearly 2.7 million Americans. AF is characterized by an irregular or rapid heartbeat where the atria (the top chambers of the heart) fibrillate or quiver fast, sometimes as fast as 300 times per minute.
The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate a relationship between both weight loss surgery and lower rates of atrial fibrillation with a large patient sampling. Bariatric surgery also has been proven to improve or resolve other co-morbidities such as Type II Diabetes, types of heart disease and high blood pressure.
The study evaluated 438 patients with a body mass index (BMI) of over 40 who were identified as good candidates for weight loss surgery. Of these patients, 326 elected to have surgery and 112 controls were managed medically without a surgical procedure. Diagnosis of AF was documented through ambulatory monitors, metabolic profiles, and electrocardiogram results. These numbers were collected both at baseline and follow-ups.
The baseline BMIs were different in patients that had surgery versus those that elected not to (46.9 for surgery patients vs 43.2 who did not). New onset of AF occurred in 3.1% of the surgery group and 12.5% in the control. The surgery group also had a reduced average BMI and had improved their metabolic profile compared to patients in the control group.
While atrial fibrillation incidences were not majorly different between either the surgical or nonsurgical group at the start of the study, only 6% of surgical patients developed the condition over the seven years they were studied compared to 16% of those who opted out of surgery. This shows how maintaining a normal body weight is important for cardiovascular health and this study shows how we should be proactive about this condition.
Prior research has shown that obesity increases a patient’s risk of atrial fibrillation by over 50%. The message this study shows is that losing weight has a powerful effect and/or total reversal on atrial fibrillation patients.