Atrial fibrillation patients doing yoga improved their quality of life and lowered their heart rate and blood pressure. Nurse and Ph.D. candidate Maria Wahlström explained, “Many patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AF) can’t live their lives as they want to – they refuse dinners with friends, concerts, and travelling – because they are afraid of an AF episode occurring. AF episodes are accompanied by chest pain, dyspnea, and dizziness. These symptoms are unpleasant, and patients feel anxious, worried, and stressed that an AF episode will occur. Most patients are still working and take sick leave to visit the hospital. Many patients with AF use complementary therapies, so it is necessary to find out if they actually help.”
Atrial fibrillation is a very common heart condition, and although it has no cure there are various management strategies to reduce symptoms and complications.
The study included 80 participants who were randomly assigned either to a yoga group or to a control group that did not perform yoga. Both groups received standard medication and other medical treatment as required.
Yoga was performed over the course of 12 weeks for one hour a week. Blood pressure, heart rate, and quality of life were measured among all participants.
Wahlström continued, “We found that patients who did yoga had a better quality of life, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure than patients who did not do yoga. If could be that the deep breathing balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, leading to less variation in heart rate. The breathing and movement may have beneficial effects on blood pressure… Yoga may improve quality of life in patients with paroxysmal AF because it gives them a method to gain some self control over their symptoms instead of feeling helpless. Patients in the yoga group said it felt good to let go of their thoughts and just be inside themselves for awhile.”
The researchers have began a larger study on 140 atrial fibrillation patients. The study will also include a group partaking in music relaxation to help distinguish whether it is the relaxation that is benefiting atrial fibrillation, or the soft movements and deep breathing of yoga.
Wahlström concluded, “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. It may also reduce their visits to hospital by lowering their anxiety until an AF episode stops.”