The heart condition atrial fibrillation can be hard to live with.
Sufferers don’t live their lives fully, nurse Maria Wahlström, who has studied the connection between the condition and yoga, explained to Medical News Daily.
“Many patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation can’t live their lives as they want to — they refuse dinners with friends, concerts and travelling — because they are afraid of an episode occurring.”
The new study offers some hope for people with the disorder. It has found that people who practice yoga are not only able to relax, it improves their quality of life and their symptoms. Wahlström is so encouraged by the results that she’s declared yoga should be offered to people with atrial fibrillation as a complementary therapy.
Many people who took yoga as part of the study, reported that “it felt good to let go of their thoughts and just be inside themselves for a while,” Wahlström noted.
So what exactly is atrial fibrillation? According to the Mayo Clinic, it occurs when the heart’s atria (the upper chambers) beat “out of coordination” with the ventricles (the lower chambers). The symptoms are stressful: palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, and chest pain. They last less than 48 hours and as much as a week and usually stop on their own.
There is no cure, and up to 2 percent of people in the developed world suffer from it. After an episode, atrial fibrillation patients are often left anxious and stressed, and the only treatment available focuses on management and prevention. Medication, electric shock, and catheter ablation are common treatments.
And now, thanks to this study, yoga may be, too.
Yoga is already used by some people to help them cope with the disorder, and Wahlström said she wanted to find out if it was effective. So she divided 80 patients randomly into one group who practiced yoga with a qualified teacher, and a second group who did not. Both were still treated with standard methods.
The yoga group enjoyed one session per week, for one hour, extending over 12 weeks. In those sessions, atrial fibrillation sufferers practiced low-impact movement, deep breathing, and meditation. Medical data — from both groups — came in the form of heart rate and blood pressure measurements.
Quality of life was measured with the help of two questionnaires.
When the yoga sessions were over, the group that practiced the discipline for 12 weeks showed an improvement in mental health, better scores on the questionnaires, and had lower heart rates and blood pressure than the control group.
Wahlström thinks that yoga is an effective treatment for atrial fibrillation because the deep breathing may have balanced their parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, which resulted in less dramatic changes in their heart rate. The breathing and movement were also beneficial to the blood pressure.
Yoga may also have given patients a tool to gain self-control over their symptoms, and as a result, they felt less helpless.
“A lot of the patients I meet who have paroxysmal AF are very stressed. Yoga should be offered as a complementary therapy to help them relax,” Wahlström said. “It may also reduce their visits to hospital by lowering their anxiety until an AF episode stops.”
According to the International Business Times UK, the study will continue and answer a few questions about the link between yoga and atrial fibrillation. A larger study with 140 patients has already begun to determine exactly how yoga techniques impact symptoms.
For example, researchers don’t know if the social aspect of yoga helped patients, whether it was the breathing or the movement exercises. In this larger study, they’ll also explore yoga and music relaxation with two of the three groups.
[Image via KieferPix/Shutterstock]