Obesity May Cause Irregular Heartbeats

Susan Farley
Published Online: Saturday, January 1, 2005

Researchers have found an association between obesity and atrial fibrillation, a heartbeat abnormality that may lead to stroke if not managed properly. Thomas Wang, MD of the Framingham Heart Study found that "obesity was associated with an approximately 50% increase in the risk of developing atrial fibrillation." The study, published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed more than 5300 middle-aged people for an average of 14 years. During that time, 526 study participants developed atrial fibrillation due to changes in the structure of the heart caused by being overweight. According to the study, obesity may cause the upper left chamber of the heart, which receives oxygenated blood from the lungs, to become dilated and beat at a faster rate.Wang explained, "Once you get atrial fibrillation, it may be very difficult for doctors to get you back into a normal rhythm?the patient may be stuck with a lifetime of taking medications to protect against stroke and other complications."In most cases, beta-blockers are used to manage irregular heartbeats, but their side effects include aggravating lung disease symptoms or reduced circulation to the limbs.

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.

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