The Link Between Obesity and Atrial Fibrillation

Obesity rates in the United States continue to increase with about 35% of adults now classified as obese according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. Obesity also increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm. While AFib on its own is not generally a life threatening condition, it puts patients at greater risk for stroke.

Obesity can cause an increase in the size of the left atrium, which is the left chamber of the heart that receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs. When the left atrium is enlarged, the heart may not pump blood efficiently, which may increase the risk of an irregular heartbeat. Obesity also affects how well the left ventricle functions and may cause fat to build around the heart that can extend to the atrial tissue and disrupt the normal electrical signals of the heart. 

Studies have shown a linear relationship between a person’s body mass index (BMI) and their risk of AFib where each one point increase in BMI was associated with a four percent (4%) increase in risk of AFib. One clinical study showed that women with a BMI higher than 30 had a 41% increased risk of AFib. At the same time, obesity increases an individual’s risk for other medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, all of which are also risk factors for AFib. 

The good news, however, is that obesity is a risk factor that can be managed with weight loss. As patients lose weight, their risk of AFib decreases. In fact, women with an initial BMI above 30 who lost weight to drop below a BMI of 30 reduced their risk of AFib enough to equal those who started at a normal weight. 

Body mass index is a measurement of your weight in relation to your height and is a general indicator of the amount of body fat. To calculate your BMI, take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height in meters squared. Alternately, you can take your weight in pounds divided by your height in inches squared and then multiple that answer by 703. The even easier option is to use a simple online calculator, such as this BMI calculator from the American Heart Association

Even a five percent (5%) decrease in total body weight can help improve overall health and reduce the risk for many diseases. If you are at higher risk of AFib or other diseases because of excess weight, try setting an initial goal to lose 5% of your current weight through healthy eating and exercise.

Do you know your personal risk for AFib and other heart disease? If you are overweight or have other risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, contact the Oklahoma Heart Hospital today for more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.