We’ve Got the Beat: Update on Atrial Fibrillation

In October, UA Sarver Heart Center cardiologists provided an update on prevention, medication management, procedures and genetic research related to atrial fibrillation. This is the most common heart rhythm disorder, affecting nearly 3 million people in the United States.

Charles Katzenberg, MD, Professor of Clinical Medicine at the UA Sarver Heart Center, discussed lifestyle and atrial fibrillation. He said many of the risk factors for a-fib are similar to those for cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke. These include high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, stress, smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and the only risk factor you can’t control – age.

He advised people to take these steps to reduce controllable a-fib risks:

  • Exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week (150 minutes a week).
  • Be aware of stress triggers that can occur at home or work, or be related to finances, depression, loss or lack of control.
  • Aggressively change your diet toward plant based as much as possible. For people with diabetes, this can lower your blood-sugar levels by 50 percent.
  • If you have hyperthyroidism, ask your doctor to check for a-fib.
  • Seek help for sleep apnea, which disrupts your normal respiratory pattern during sleep.
  • Don’t abuse alcohol. This means no more than one or two drinks a day.

If you have recurring episodes of atrial fibrillation, monitor your intake of possible triggers, including caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, chocolate) and alcohol.

If you’re on warfarin, you don’t have to avoid green vegetables that are rich in Vitamin K; just try to eat them regularly, for example one to two servings a day. Eating these nutrients regularly will not interfere with your INR monitoring.

Julia Indik, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, described several unique a-fib patients and emphasized each required individualized treatments based on their symptoms and stroke risks. All patients need to know their CHADS-VASc score to know their risk.

Peter Ott, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, provided an update on several procedures to control heart rhythm, including pacemakers and ablation. He covered methods to tie off the left atrial appendage, a source for blood clots that could lead to strokes. He emphasized that all medications and procedures work better if people address their lifestyle risk factors.

Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, who discussed genetic research to identify mutations that could increase a-fib risks, told the audience to go to these resources for more information: