Most Triggers for Irregular Heartbeat Can Be Easily Modified

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A personal survey of patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), one of the most important causes of irregular heartbeats, has found that the majority of triggers for the condition are easily modifiable lifestyle choices, including alcohol, caffeine, exercise and lack of sleep.

The findings, identified by researchers at UC San Francisco in collaboration with patients and advocates, indicate potential ways to prevent and reduce AF episodes. The study appears online Feb. 14, 2019, in the journal HeartRhythm.

“Almost all AF studies have to do with risk factors for the initial development of the disease,” said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, a UCSF Health cardiologist and associate chief of cardiology for research in the UCSF Division of Cardiology. “This study focuses on specific exposures that cause an individual episode to occur.”

In AF, electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart are chaotic, causing the atrial walls to quiver, rather than contracting normally in moving blood to the lower chambers. As a result, blood clots may form. One in four adults over age 40 is at risk for AF, with a projection of nearly 6 million people in the nation having the condition by 2050.

AF is one of the leading causes of stroke, but often has no symptoms and can remain undetected until a stroke actually occurs. Earlier detection would enable the use of anticoagulation therapy to mitigate the risk of stroke and other complications, such as dementia, chronic kidney disease and heart attack.

Previous research has focused on determining predictors of AF development, which are known to include being older, male and white; having multiple cardiovascular comorbidities; and lifestyle factors such as alcohol and smoking. Little is known about acute exposures influencing specific episodes. 

Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, senior author of the study. According to Marcus, the idea for this study arose from a group of AF patients, including author Mellanie True Hills, …

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