Yoga may help improve the quality of life of people suffering from sudden abnormal heart rhythm, a new study has found.

Patients diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation or sudden abnormal heartbeat may benefit from yoga, suggest researchers from the European Society of Cardiology. The team also found that the spiritual, physical and mental practice may reduce heart rate and blood pressure levels.

"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," says study author Maria Wahlström.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a common disorder that affects about 1.5 to 2 percent of the population in developed nations. Those with AF have an irregular and rapid heart rate.

The disorder causes people to suffer from dizziness, chest pain and breathing difficulty. Such symptoms make patients feel anxious, worried and stressed over the next AF episode.

The clinical manifestations of paroxysmal (sudden) AF may last from as short as less than 48 hours to as long as seven days. With this, patients cannot seem to live their lives fully as they are afraid of getting an attack when doing activities such as traveling, dining out or partying.

AF does not have a definitive cure yet. Disorder management targets alleviating the signs and symptoms and preventing complications such as stroke.

Yoga For AF

To investigate the effects of yoga on patients with AF, Wahlström and colleagues conducted a pilot study that involved 80 participants diagnosed with paroxysmal AF. The authors randomly assigned the subjects to receive either a standard AF treatment or a standard AF treatment plus yoga for 12 weeks.

The authors evaluated the patients' baseline blood pressure, heart rate and quality of life using standardized assessment tools.

After the experiment period, the yoga group exhibited higher scores in a mental health test, lower blood pressure levels and lower heart rates than the group that only received standard treatment..

The mental health test scores also improved from baseline to post-treatment period among the yoga group. Such improvement was not noted among the standard treatment group.

The patients had improved self-control and they said that it felt good to release their worrisome thoughts and just be one with themselves for a while.

Future Work

The team is now looking at performing a larger study involving 140 participants with paroxysmal AF. These subjects will be randomized to receive yoga, music therapy or a control intervention.

Such experiment will verify if only the relaxation or the combination of movement and deep breathing exercises are beneficial. The team may also find out if the group therapy component of these interventions is helpful, since the participants are likely to feel secure and safe when they meet other people undergoing the same situation.

Wahlström concludes that yoga should be offered to people with paroxysmal AF as a complementary therapy to help them relax. Doing yoga may also lower their anxiety and help them stay calm during an AF episode until it stops, decreasing the need for hospital trips.

The study was published on Monday in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

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